"Marriage Story" (2019)- Movie Review

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach
Starring Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Dern

‘A Heartbreaking Divorce Drama’

It is always hard to move on from the awful aftermath of divorce. As any divorced person would be able to attest, breaking up with someone you love is a painful process. First of all, spouses must confront harsh feelings that they harbour towards each other. Feelings of anger, resentment and grief must be dealt with. Then, there’s the court proceedings in which each spouse is pushed to the limit. Finally, there’s the added pressure of breaking up a marriage when a child is involved. These are the issues that couples must confront when they make the decision to end a marriage.

Noah Baumbach’s latest film “Marriage Story” is a witty, tender and heartbreaking drama that captures the painful process of divorce. With his latest feature, writer/director Noah Baumbach has crafted a compelling portrait of a couple in the midst of a tense breakup. Using a sharp screenplay and talented cast, Baumbach has made a beautiful film about the strain of divorce. At the centre of it all are Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, who deliver the best performances of their careers. Although “Marriage Story” is undeniably unforgettable, it is not a film without flaws. At over two hours, it is slightly long and suffers from a lengthy running-time. That being said, it offers an authentic depiction of divorce that is worth streaming on Netflix.

“Marriage Story” tells the story of a couple that is going through a coast-to-coast divorce. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star in the lead roles as Charlie and Nicole Barber, a married couple in a fractured relationship. Charlie is a successful but self-absorbed stage director who puts his career ahead of his family. Nicole is a struggling actress that is dissatisfied with her relationship and decides to file for divorce. As tensions begin to mount between Charlie and Nicole, they soon discover that ending their marriage isn’t going to be as easy as they thought.

It is then that we are swept into the chaotic life of a couple that is confronted with aggressive lawyers, hostile feelings and mutual hatred of the divorce process. Writer/director Noah Baumbach clearly understands what it’s like to get divorced, and he isn’t afraid to share his personal experiences. With “Marriage Story”, Baumbach approaches the topic of divorce from an empathetic perspective. In spite of the seriousness of its subject, “Marriage Story” is a film that is surprisingly funny. It is not easy to infuse humour into a subject as serious as divorce, but Baumbach pulls it off effortlessly. At times, the film is heartbreaking and sad especially in scenes when the couple argue with each other. However, the film is also quite funny and comical. As with his previous work, Baumbach masterfully balances moments of heartbreak and humour to great effect. The two moods blend together seamlessly, making “Marriage Story” an undeniably engrossing divorce drama.

Another praiseworthy aspect of “Marriage Story” is the screenplay. Noah Baumbach has penned an excellent screenplay that captures the consequences of divorce. The script is extremely well-written and arguably the highlight of the movie. Filled with compelling characters, sharp dialogue and realistic situations, the screenplay elevates the movie to another level. Baumbach’s greatest strength as a screenwriter is his ability to create empathetic characters that you come to care about. Instead of taking sides in the divorce, Baumbach gives each spouse their own perspective and inherent flaws. Charlie and Nicole are flawed, yet relatable people that are caught in a horrible situation. Unlike “Kramer vs. Kramer”, a similar themed movie, “Marriage Story” illustrates the perspectives of both spouses in the divorce process. Using a well-balanced screenplay, Baumbach keeps viewers engrossed in the lives of a couple going through a divorce.

It is hard to not marvel at the powerful performances from the cast. Every actor gets the chance to shine and leave a lasting impression, but the film is mainly a showcase for its two leading stars.

Adam Driver delivers his finest performance to date as Charlie. This is the actor unlike you’ve ever seen him before: intense, charismatic and vulnerable in his most personal role to date. In “Marriage Story”, Driver showcases an emotional side to his acting that we’ve never seen before. With riveting expressions, he conveys the frustration, grief and resentment of a father in the midst of a divorce. For instance, the scene in which he has a mental breakdown in the apartment argument is the most emotional and vulnerable work that the actor has ever done. While Adam Driver has been overlooked in the past, this powerful performance will surely gain him recognition come awards season.

Scarlett Johansson is sensational in the role of a woman that is dissatisfied with her marriage. Johansson has always been a talented actress, but has never been given the chance to showcase her talents in a dramatic role. For most of her career, she has been relegated to playing action heroines. In “Marriage Story”, however, Johansson is given the chance to showcase her dramatic range. With emotional expressions, she captures the struggles of a frustrated woman in the midst of a devastating divorce. It’s a phenomenal performance from one of the most seasoned actresses working in the industry today.

The supporting cast is excellent and also worthy of recognition. Laura Dern is fantastic and steals nearly every scene she is in the role of an aggressive family lawyer. Ray Liotta is brilliant as a lawyer that operates somewhere between reasonable and crazy. And finally, it is hard to not mention Julie Hagerty. As Nicole’s exuberant mother, she brings hilarious comical relief and persona to the movie.

Although “Marriage Story” offers an unforgettable portrayal of divorce, ultimately it is not a film without flaws. If I had a minor issue with the movie, it would be the lengthy running-time. At over two hours, the film is slightly long and may have benefitted from a tighter cut. With a joyful score, director Noah Baumbach keeps the film moving at an engrossing pace during the first hour. However, once the film enters its final act, it starts to lose steam and test the viewer’s patience. In this regard, a little more attention to the editing would have elevated the movie to another level.

Nevertheless, fans of Noah Baumbach’s previous films will definitely enjoy “Marriage Story” and so will movie-goers seeking heartwarming entertainment this holiday season. Films that focus on divorced couples are sadly a rarity in Hollywood today. At a time when divorce is rarely depicted in Cinema, it’s reassuring to be reminded that movies like “Marriage Story” are still getting made.

4.5/5 stars

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