In a world with countless films about love, it’s power, and how people fall in it, Marriage Story is surely a film about what it’s like to fall out of it.
Marriage Story is directed by Noah Baumbach, and it’s arguably his best film to date. From it’s heartbreaking opening to it’s optimistic ending, this film took me on a roller-coaster of emotions and it wasn’t so much because of the talent on-screen as much as it was Baumbach’s talent off-screen. In addition to directing the film, Baumbach also wrote it. It’s so honest that you can’t help but feel like it’s autobiographical. Between the close-ups and conversations the characters have to the feelings and the fights we are shown, Baumbach holds NOTHING back. It’s a traditional film in every since, but the intimacy that’s explored feels almost documentary-esque.
The film follows Charlie, an NYC-based theater director, and Nicole, an actress, as they transition from marriage to divorce. In the midst of the divorce though, Nicole moves to California to accept a role in a TV show, and as a result the initial simple separation turns into a nasty coast-to-coast battle for custody of their son.
Admittedly, Marriage Story does channel Kramer vs. Kramer, the 1979 Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep about their fight for custody of their son. As I mentioned before though, I think this film is a lot more personal. Baumbach has a lot to say here, but it isn’t all told through his characters. I believe that in addition to trying to reconcile the differences between his two leads, in some way the film is also his attempt to make peace between the two coasts. Two separate worlds, two separate lifestyles at odds with each other because they think they’re different, yet they all have a common goal. That’s Charlie and Nicole.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Academy Award Nominee Adam Driver (The Report, and the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) plays Charlie and Scarlett Johansson (Jojo Rabbit, and the upcoming Black Widow) plays Nicole. The two of them give career-best performances here, and while that may not necessarily say a lot about Johansson, it definitely speaks volumes about Driver. As an actor who has consistently pushed the envelope, I can say with certainty that he gives his most emotionally driven and complex performance to date here. There’s a scene where he literally bleeds out! And not only does it add a whole new meaning to term the raw emotion, but it’s brilliant when you consider that it physically mirrors the way Baumbach bleeds his truth into the story.
Now, I don’t want to undercut Johansson in any way. This role is so different from anything else that she’s ever done, and, it too, is so raw that you can’t help but wonder if she’s dipping into her personal pain, having gone through two marital separations herself. This feels like her Renaissance. If 2019 is any indication of a new trajectory for Johansson’s career, then count me in.
In addition to the two leads, the rest of the supporting characters are also incredible. Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and even Ray Liotta shine as different lawyers for the couple. Though personally Alda is my favorite. I understand why Dern is getting so much Oscar Buzz. She is relentless.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The film’s sound design is great, but the score is honestly just as compelling as some of the performances. I think that Baumbach owes a lot to Randy Newman’s opening piece, “What I Love About Charlie,” because it’s what got me so invested into the story immediately, and I’m sure it did (and will continue to do the same) for viewers.
There are little to no effects in the film, and makeup is also minimal - the scene where Charlie bleeds looks incredibly realistic. Hair plays an important role in the film though. In the opening montage, it’s revealed that Nicole is the one that cuts both Charlie and their son’s hair. During the custody battle, Nicole cuts her hair too and changes also its hair color. As the battle gets nastier, Charlie becomes a wreck, and his hair grows without no one to cut it for him. The hair symbolizes the literal length of the time the whole ordeal takes as well as the different weight it seems to have on both of them.
The set design is also incredible. In what I consider to be the climax of the film, Charlie and Nicole engage in a nasty argument in his apartment and the way that the colors influence the scene and the mood of the characters is just brilliant.
Words, feelings, tears, and even blood are on full-display here. Baumbach’s entire filmography has always had a thin veil separating him from his audience, but here, he’s removed the veil entirely. This film is about Charlie and Nicole of course, but it’s also about him. He’s literally gone back to the basics here to achieve one of cinema’s primary goals: to tell the truth.