Marriage Story Adam Driver Scarlett Johansson review

Year: 2019
Director(s): Noah Baumbach
Writer(s): Noah Baumbach
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Rating: R
Color, 136 mins

Synopsis: An incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together. (Source)

There are few pains in this life more gutting than a breakup, and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story makes sure to explore a ruthless one with inescapable depth and clarity. With personal inflections in tow, Baumbach has easily risen above a history of breakup films. He doesn’t shy away from the anguish and confusion of the subject, but also finds unavoidably graceful reflections alongside pain. Needless to say, this isn’t a film out to demonize either side of a conflict, but rather come to a place of empathy and understanding. And while this isn’t even Baumbach’s first time tackling the subject, it feels like his most mature look at it. Add to this monumental performances from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, and what we end up with is a story that’s at once devastating, witty and necessary. 

When the story begins, Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are basically separated. Though they’ve lead a prestigious NYC theatre company together, their personal life has taken a hit. Throughout their marriage, tensions have lead to an irreconcilable blow up. Now, Nicole has chosen move to Los Angeles with their son Henry. Unable to view the situation in its entirety, Charlie fears of losing Henry in an escalating battle not just for custody, but of the life they’d built in NYC. While Nicole’s new choices allow her freedom, Charlie feels as if the walls are closing in. The stage is set for a complex divorce in which both parties are fighting for an uncertain future. 

Marriage Story review Adam Driver Scarlett Johansson

Fittingly, Baumbach’s film is not about choosing a side. With its intricately layered character studies and a deft command of emotional urgency, Baumbach crafts an even account of savage familial meltdown. Both sides are given the same amount of play, even as Baumbach appropriately skews critical towards Charlie’s narrow-minded vision. Throughout, the story never loses sight of what’s at stake. It maintains a contrast of the love that once was amidst a tremendous sense of loss and confusion. Ultimately, this mature slant is that of love transcending legality. It highlights the necessity of letting go of the past to move forward, and how love can only mature as it grows. After a few knock-down drag out fights, both physical and mentally, the Baumbach earns an empathetic catharsis that doesn’t betray the spats of ugliness it took to get there.

Beneath Baumbach’s direction, is a beating heart comprised of both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. These two are miraculous together, with perfect chemistry and a humanity that gives the story’s ideas flesh and bone tangibility. As a film based around shifting conversations and very primal forms of communication, the two express so much with or without words. As Charlie, Driver presents a headstrong artist unable to detach himself from a need for perfection. Nicole plays a someone who is endlessly graceful without trying. Seeing this trait tested and pushed to its limit gives us a raw performance that is rare and powerful. On the side, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda are lawyers who navigate Charlie and Nicole’s struggle. These distinct performances are indispensable to articulating the story’s escalating stakes.

That Marriage Story channels a few genuine laughs amidst the desperation, is a testament to Baumbach’s unparalleled sensitivity. The film is easily accessible without watering itself down, and never pulls its punches. Taking center stage, is a personal story that captures our imperfections in the face of fear, but also the way that love heals over time – even if it’s not in the way that we can expect or control.