Marriage Story (2019) is a drama distributed by Netflix and a major contender at this year’s Academy Awards. Directed by Noah Baumbach, this film stars Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern. When actress Nicole (Johansson) and theatre director Charlie (Driver) finally decide they want a divorce after ten years of having a relationship, things turn messy when Nicole goes against their plan and hires a lawyer to complete the process.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson both give their best performances to date here, with both of them equally worthy of being in talks to win their respected awards at the Academy Awards. Their performances have so many layers to them and showcase the complexity of both of their situations. Driver is given slightly more screen time with a heavier script focusing on Charlie’s struggles, but the audience also understands how Nicole is feeling and I may actually go against the majority of other reviews and say that Johansson gives a more emotional and gut-punching performance here. There is one sequence that involves an argument and it may just have become my favourite sequence of 2019 due to the amount of emotion crammed into those three-to-four minutes.
The performances are only able to be as good as they are due to the incredible script written by Noah Baumbach. The progression of the story here feels incredibly natural and effortless as if we were actually watching a marriage break down in front of us. The opening sequence is beautifully crafted, making the audience instantly feel connected to the characters and their relationship before immediately breaking us and letting us know it will not work out.
This film handles the themes of divorce and bad relationships with the ideas of family, particularly focusing on raising and caring for a child in the midst of the divorce. If there was no child written into this film, it would be clear that there would be no high stakes and the film wouldn’t have worked as emotionally. Between the two viewpoints of Nicole and Charlie, as well as the viewpoint of their child and how he sees the world, it leaves the audience questioning whose side they are on, and simply the honest answer is that the situation sucks and there is no correct side except to have everyone happy with the final result.
One aspect that was covered intensely in this film that I did not expect was the law side of the divorce. Instead of just being a dramatic divorce film focusing on those in the relationship, this film also explored the relationship between the lawyers and how they see divorce settlements as a game of tactics, even from a couple who originally has no plans on playing their game. It is an interesting, yet heartbreaking, view on divorce that I’m sure many people have experienced first hand.
This film could have easily just been an overly sombre and dramatic piece of fiction that just relies on the heavy narrative, and yet it feels more grounded and realistic due to the surprising use of humour spread throughout the film. There are moments of uncomfortableness which not only makes the audience feel a sense of uneasiness, but also is done with so much awkwardness that it is actually hilarious to watch. Nicole’s family, played by Julie Hagerty and Merritt Wever, add a sense of joy to her life and every scene with them is comedic and light, even when the individual scenes are pivotal to driving the heavy narrative.
There are so many elements that tie in beautifully to help create this package of a film. The score, done by none other than Randy Newman, is beautifully done yet does not distract from the story at all. It is actually in those moments with a lack of score which creates the most impact, taking us straight into the scene. The editing is clean and crisp, with not a moment of this film feeling wasted. Even the little details here, such as the production design on Charlie’s apartment add nice touches that link to the narrative of the film.
This film hit me on a completely emotional level. I knew it would impact me, but I did not know how hard it would hit me. This is a beautiful film which is expertly written with every moment thought out and taken care of. It is only the fourth film this year to earn a perfect score for me and I cannot wait to play this over and over again when it releases on Netflix next week.
Have you had a chance to check out Marriage Story yet? Did it impact you as much as it did for me? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.