Seeing as I am a 24-year-old that is a solid 6 out of 10 with the maturity of a 4th grader and the financial wherewithal you would assume a movie blogger would have, it should come as no surprise that I have never been married (Hit me up, ladies!). I have been blessed to witness my parents’ in a loving marriage for my entire life, but that is the extent of my knowledge of civil unions. So, while it may be foreign to me, marriage is one of the world’s most common institutions, and the story of the decay of a family through a divorce is a story that so many people can empathize with.
Noah Baumbach creates an amazing experience with this film. He begins by giving both Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) about 3 minutes each to describe the reasons and qualities that made them fall in love with each other over a montage of them pantomiming happiness. But after these opening moments, we are bombarded with heartbreak until the very closing moments of the film. We are quickly built up to appreciate why they love each other and are given about 2 hours to watch something we understand was genuine crumble before our eyes. It is a relatable tragedy that consigns its characters’ pathos exceptionally onto its audience.
It should not take the keenest eye to notice that the film is driven almost entirely by dialogue. Every competent script requires dialogue to function, but when all events on screen are conversations rather than actions, there is risk associated with that decision. The pacing could potentially become an issue as things happen much less frequently and you may see two characters in a room simply talking about the same subject for extended periods. “Marriage Story” turns this potential pitfall into one of its strengths, as it will captivate while juxtaposing itself with the knowledge that it is fighting an uphill battle.
The writing is noteworthy, but I can’t help but wonder if the film would thrive the same way if not for Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver delivering career-defining performances. The casting for the leads is reasonably the biggest draw to the film, and they each perform theatrically yet never straying into over-the-top melodrama. Scarlett’s Nicole is a woman trying to capture the agency she felt she surrendered in her marriage and Adam’s Charlie is a man who needs to grow in maturity and learn to see situations beyond his own perspective. He has sympathy but not empathy. You know that they truly do care for each other while simultaneously not being good for each other. Both characters undergo palpable character arcs that communicate vividly just how life-changing an experience that divorce is, punctuated by an argument that serves as a climactic catharsis of their respective experiences.
I did enjoy the supporting cast as well, although their impact pales in comparison to that of the leads. Alan Alda stands out as the sympathetic divorce lawyer who is seemingly Charlie’s only ally in the entire film. He provides heart and feels like a much-needed shoulder to cry on for the few scenes he is on-screen. Similarly, Laura Dern is Nicole’s lawyer, and while she is openly supportive of her, you can’t help but feel that she could easily flip the switch to being cut-throat at any minute. It is difficult to determine if she is antagonizing Charlie or simply helping Nicole.
I am sure this film will hit differently for everyone who sees it. I have made my relationship with the material know, but all of our experiences are unique. Perhaps you can relate to your own experiences. Maybe you have seen someone you care for dealing with divorce. One thing I can promise is that we all have someone in our life we care about, and “Marriage Story” forces us to confront the idea that things will not always be perfect with that person and the reality of learning to adapt to how life would change as a result.
While the quality is undeniable, I doubt anybody will genuinely enjoy their time watching the movie. An honest assessment of this movie is that “Marriage Story” is not truly a piece of entertainment. It feels more like being forced to eat vegetables as a kid. It is not easy to be faced with powerful emotions, especially ones of heartache. It is hard work but, in the end, it is good for you. I recommend you give this film a watch at least one time because it’s as simple as streaming it on Netflix and you are most assuredly going to see the names associated with it during award season.
I give “Marriage Story” a 9.0 out of 10
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Runtime: 2 Hours and 16 minutes