In 2019, audiences have seen a notable push from streamer
Netflix, in acquiring outstanding, award-worthy talent for its slate of
original movies, whether it be David Michôd’s gritty Shakespearean drama The
King (2019), Martin Scorsese’s revisionist gangster epic The Irishman (2019)
or even to some extent, Eddie Murphy’s outstanding return to form in Dolemite
Is My Name (2019).
Following the sheer presence of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma
(2018) at this year’s Academy Awards, it’s abundantly clear that Netflix
has made ample effort to push for high calibre talent, in the aim of being
awarded that Best Picture Oscar, a win that would undoubtedly shake an industry
which has looked down upon streaming, for many years now.
And yet, despite all the above-mentioned talent, Netflix’s biggest
award-season push will likely be with Noah Baumbach’s essential divorce drama, Marriage
Story. A Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) story for the modern age,
particularly in a time where more and more people are delaying marriage till
later in life, or rejecting marriage all together.
Marriage Story follows Charlie (Adam Driver) and
Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) over the process of their separation and
Charlie is a New York based, avant-garde stage director,
prospering a potential Broadway opening for his new play.
Nicole is a Los Angeles born actress, haunted by the shadow
of her fading star. Nicole’s career resurges with her casting in a high-profile
television series based in Hollywood.
The film opens with the fractured couple recounting their
shared love and compassion over the years, from being work partners to parents.
Here, Baumbach presents the fairy tale relationship, a sequence recalling
graceful, happier moments aided by a whimsical soundtrack from Randy Newman.
The calming fantasy eventually fades into the reality of
separation, losing the sense of whimsy for the gruelling, raw journey to come.
Marriage Story is an enriching observation of unity
A personal catharsis from writer-director Noah Baumbach, the
film has been imbued from the experience of his divorce to actress Jennifer
Baumbach never pulls any punches in revealing the ugly side
of divorce, showcasing the pent-up anger and breakdowns built up by financial
and emotional strain.
Additionally, Charlie and Nicole are burdened by their
location, fighting for custody over whether their son Henry, should stay with
Nicole on the West coast or Charlie on the East coast.
What keeps Marriage Story engaging is its honesty and
powerful performances. Baumbach approaches the film with a dignified pace,
allowing events to unravel naturally. Scenes leading to tension and outbursts
feel like moments earned and reflective of the divorce process.
Moments where Charlie and Nicole become friendly or act
responsibly with one another feel like monumental shifts in potentially keeping
the marriage alive, before reality sets in once again.
There’s a genuine connection created with the characters as
they progress over time with their separation and divorce. Moments of respite,
exertion and hope feel like they’re being experienced first-hand.
The performances of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as
Charlie and Nicole respectively, are nothing short of incredible. Baumbach
commands much of the film in mid-shots and close-ups, allowing these actors the
opportunity to flourish in emotionally demanding scenes, that at times don’t
cut for a number of minutes.
The range of emotional talent involved is staggering, with
scenes requiring Driver or Johansson to exhibit numerous emotions within a
single shot, all with unwavering commitment and sense of natural ease.
Whether it be Nicole recounting to lawyer Nora Fanshaw
(Laura Dern) over how she met Charlie, or Charlie being presented with his
child custody options, there are numerous scenes in Marriage Story that
showcase the unbelievable talent that Johansson and Driver hold, that often get
undermined and overshadowed in the big-budget tentpoles that both actors are
Driver in particular showcases a satisfying level of
emotional depth that the actor has yet to sincerely attempt on screen. While
the actor gained a lot of attention this year for his sophisticated performance
in Scott Z. Burns’ riveting political drama The Report (2019), it’s his
role here in Marriage Story, that I believe will gain the most attention
come awards season.
I’d be remiss not to mention Laura Dern’s turn as lawyer
Nora, which feels like a role custom made for Dern.
Baumbach has a lot of fun showcasing the duality of lawyers
in these proceedings, watching a pleasant and casual interaction between
lawyers divulge into utter vitriol in the courtroom.
Laura Dern plays this notion up wonderfully in a number of Marriage
Story’s more comedic scenes.
Alan Alda, Ray Liotta and Wallace Shawn also make welcome
appearances in the film, offering pleasantly balanced doses of comedy amongst
the more dramatic proceedings.
Marriage Story is a film that challenges the
perceived prominence of marriage in the modern age. While it doesn’t disregard
the idea of marriage entirely, it does question whether the notion of
committing to a legally binding symbol of love… is even worth it, particularly
with how that same love can be reciprocated in different forms of recognition
I imagine anyone who’s been through divorce or felt the
effects of divorce, may find Marriage Story to be a deeply cathartic
experience. However, I can also imagine anyone currently engaged or yet to be
married, potentially finding the film to be something of a cautionary tale
against getting married at all.
Marriage Story offers the opportunity to be
reflective with your significant other, so if you decide to watch the film with
them, be prepared for any and all discussions that follow.
Noah Baumbach has delivered a deeply enriching film, that benefits from
its unmatched authenticity and unbelievable performances, while showcasing
Netflix’s dedication to high-calibre filmmaking. Marriage Story is a
film that offers introspection and discussion on a deeply personal level, and
for that, it is absolutely a must-see film.
Marriage Story is currently playing in select theatres, and will arrive on Netflix 6th
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