The ups and downs of divorce serve as the backdrop in director Noah Baumbach’ s Netflix film, Marriage Story. We first meet New York stage director Charlie Barber (Adan Driver) and his actress wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) during a marriage therapy session. As both Charlie and Nicole describe their issues to their therapist, it’s apparent the Barbers, while no longer in love with each other, are still on good terms.
From the onset, director Noah Baumbach makes the wise choice to let Nicole describe what she loves about her soon to be-ex-husband Charlie. While Nicole has a long list of her husband’s fine points, she has no desire to hear why Charlie loves her. The man Nicole chose to marry and fell in love with isn’t the current Charlie. Nicole is a broken woman and is ready to move on her with life in the quickest way possible. Charlie appears to agree and wants to do all to keep the divorce amicable. When Nicole decides to move California, for a new acting gig as well as personal growth, both parties soon realize divorce is never easy.
The key strength in Marriage Story is the tour de force performances by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Johansson primarily known for portraying strong women, portrays Nicole in a subdued manner. Baumbach script gives Johansson a chance to show her range as an actress. and Johansson excels. One of the choices for the character I loved was the makeup. Nicole is seen as an everyday mother and wife and not a glamorous star, which allows the audience to identity with her character. The tonal shift in Nicole works quite well. We watch Nicole grow from a meek yes-woman to a confident mother who learns what her worth is.
Adam Driver continues to make diverse film choices. As Charlie, Driver brings traits of both beta and alpha male to the character. Watching Charlie on screen, I saw a lot of myself in the character. Charlie wants the best for his son; however, he is selfish when it comes to his soon-to-be-ex-wife. There is a reveal that comes midway into the film, that may explain Charlie’s rationale and why he behaves the way he does. One of the most heartbreaking moments in the film for me, is Charlie’s monologue with Nicole as both parties just break down. The emotion that Driver brings to the scene is easily one the strongest acting moments in his career.
While Marriage Story is a showcase for Johansson and Driver, the supporting cast also have moments to shine. Laura Dern portrays Nora Fanshaw, Nicole’s divorce attorney who wants her client to get everything she’s entitled to. Ray Liotta and Alan Alda portray two different type of attorneys for Charlie. Liotta brings his signature acting method to the role of Jay, a win by all costs lawyer, Alan Alda on the other hand portrays Bert as an almost father like figure to Charlie. Special mention must also go to Azhy Robertson who portrays Henry, Charlie and Nicole’s son.
Baumbach’s script could’ve told the story through Henry’s eyes; instead, he gives Azhy Robertson the chance to be a kid. One of the things I loved was as Nicole finds her own personality away from Charlie, Henry does as well.
Known primarily for having a recurring theme of dysfunctional families in his film, Marriage Story gives the director and writer a chance to try something different. While its 135 minute run time and heavy dialogue moments may turn off some audiences, with its realistic themes of love, I highly recommended the film.
Final Grade B+
Marriage Story will be available to stream on Netflix on December 6th.