Noah Baumbach is one of the most competent filmmakers living today. He is grossly underrated and nearly every one of his 13 films have all been incredible. Mariage Story is no exception. It’s brilliant, it’s emotional, it’s grounded and my God it’s well acted. Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Ray Liotta, and Laura Dern are all excellent in this film. Driver and Johanson especially, in my opinion, are both deserving of Oscar nominations.
This is a love story about divorce. A weird concept right? It sounds like something that shouldn’t work whatsoever, but it does. It works so well. It’s a film that is so grounded in reality, and it’s somewhat surreal to watch. Visually, there’s not much to work with, with a neutral color palette, and no visual effects, the film draws you into the world and expresses it’s emotions prominently in the first few minutes.
Travelling between New York and Los Angeles, Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) are a married couple on the verge of divorce. Nicole and Charlie work together daily, as the owners of a local theatre company. Charlie is a highly respected director and Nicole is the on stage star of his current directing endeavor. The only issue is, after nearly 10 years of marriage, they aren’t working out anymore.
Nicole decides she wants a divorce, and they begin the process. Nicole moves to Los Angeles, where she grew up, and where her mother and sister live. The theater production she starred in had recently closed and is preparing to move to Broadway, so she steps down and moves away, leaving Charlie to direct. The one residing issue is custody. Their eight year old son Henry (played by Azhy Robertson) They have yet to agree on who will take him, and neither wanting to cause issues for him are open about the divorce.
This film is less about the love between two people having gone away, it’s already happened. The film is really about the horrible legal battles that can ensue in a rough divorce. When Charlie and Nicole get lawyers, (played by Ray Liotta and Laura Dern) things get ugly very fast.
Marriage Story is simply heartbreaking, and it doesn’t pick sides either. You get to feel for, and hate both sides equally. You spend alone time with Charlie, and his struggles to be a better father, a less naive man, and realize his faults in his marriage. Nicole is also struggling to learn how to cope with the changing times, and having launched into a new career in television in Los Angeles, she comes to face the act that she’s also to blame for the situation she finds herself in.
This film is near perfect for me, and I can not offer any higher praise to Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. They do something incredible with a simple story. Noah Baumbach is one of the most criminally underrated filmmakers of recent memory, and he has outdone himself here. This film deserves such high praise and I can only hope it finds what it deserves in this upcoming award season.
Two of Baumbach’s films, The Meyerowitz Stories and Marriage Story are both available on Netflix