Arts and Culture

Marriage Story Review

Whenever I sit down and think about a recent film I have watched, my mind races between the things that worked and did not work in that respective piece. When something enticing piques my interest, I try my best to avoid full-on reviews of the final product, which at times can be difficult. In order to get better at what I like to do, I have to study both a film and how it should be approached, dissected, and analyzed. When something grand arrives in theaters, or on a streaming service, Oscar buzz is discussed on open forums in rather loose descriptions of the film’s general acclaim. With Noah Baumbach’s new film, Marriage Story, I really hadn’t heard anything about it, aside from its Rotten Tomatoes score. So I was able to press play with a couple of hours to spare, and a fairly open mind. 

With that being said, Marriage Story, in nearly every respect, is an absolutely flawless portrayal of the feelings and emotions that are involved when falling out of love with somebody. There is nothing about this film that feels disingenuous or forced. At times, I felt as if I was watching a play as opposed to a film, a feeling that is rarely explored in cinema in our generation. Marriage Story tells the tale of Charlie and Nicole Barber, played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, respectively. Its runtime chronicles their divorce process, their fight over child custody terms, and the emotional distress suffered at both of their expenses. As each minute passes, the audience is subjected to both sides of the story, with each side respectively highlighting the other’s flaws.

However, none of this could be believable without the intensity and vigor delivered by both Johansson and Driver’s performances, as well as the sublime chemistry shared between the two of them. As parents, former lovers, and human beings, the love that Charlie and Nicole still share for each other as people, despite their turbulent relationship, is present in almost every scene they share together. This is one of the many things that Noah Baumbach’s script analyzes. He sacrifices many potentially Oscar-worthy argument scenes in order to allow his two central characters to study themselves as both individuals, and as a pair.

This brings me to say that the script that was penned for this film is one of the best screenplays that has ever been developed for film. Talking about it in this way does not do it the justice it deserves. Charlie and Nicole are the divorcing couple, and with this script, Noah Baumbach is their mediator. His writing keeps the audience unable from choosing sides in this story – something that is rarely explored in cinema of this nature. Most of the scenes in this film are played out with perfect subtlety, and at times, are even quite funny and lighthearted.

Aside from the divorce itself, one of the central conflicts that the film surrounds itself in is the influence that divorce lawyers have in this process. They force their clients to make hurtful claims regarding the opposing side, with the intention of winning the case. The film makes a very poignant statement in which these characters treat their profession like a sport by pitting the two former lovers against each other. 

After watching for both a second, and a third time, it was very difficult for me to find any substantial flaw within this film. Nearly every single scene is crafted with such perfection that it will leave you overwhelmed by the time the credits roll. There are times in the film where the score feels a tad inappropriate for certain scenes, but that doesn’t necessarily steer the film in a new direction, nor does it take away from its impact on viewers. Aside from that particular critique alone, Marriage Story is the type of film that every filmmaker should be striving to create. Not necessarily because of its subject matter, but because it makes an example out of our own realities. Charlie and Nicole are both right and wrong in their own merits, and with this picture, Baumbach gives his viewers an essentially unbiased approach to this particular couple’s divorce process. With two career defining performances from its two lead actors, and a script that beautifully incorporates the analysis of a failed relationship, Marriage Story manages to earn itself the title of the best film of 2019. There has never been a film quite like this before. A film that tackles the subject of divorce, while leaving room for each side to be accepted and understood, and is able to transform itself into a character drama that never appears to be driven by plot, is hard to come by. Its appropriate incorporation of humor adds to the film’s sense of humanity, for even in our most troubling times, there are still things to smile about.