Marriage Story is a potent melodrama about the tragic dissolution of a marriage.
The film has already won several major awards (including six Golden Globes), and
it is being marketed as a potential Oscars best picture contender.
The director, Noam Baumbach was divorced from his then actress/wife in 2013 who
was also in theatre. It seems likely that Baumbach based the screenplay at least
partially on their experiences. Baumbach is a superb screenplay writer, a fine director and a talented
sometimes collaborator (often working with the hipster directing God, Wes
Anderson.) He is known for directing highly personal indie films that rely on
ensemble casts such as The Squid and the Whale (2005), Margot at the Wedding
(2007), and Meyerowitz Stories (2018), which actually contained a decent Adam
Personally, I think Marriage Story falls short of being a full-fledged
masterpiece or the best film of the year, but it is undeniably well written, and
it contains some of the best moments and performances of 2019.
The film may just take home some Oscars for best screenplay or a best acting
award. Marriage Story also probably represents artistic peaks so far of both of
its two lead actors.
Marriage Story stars Scarlett Ingrid Johansson, who is probably best known to
most movie viewers for playing the Black Widow (with sadly no Russian accent) in
the Avengers films, and she is slated to reprise the role in an upcoming solo
While she was convincing in the role of Natasha Romanoff, she delivered much
finer performances in smaller films such as Ghost World (2001), The Man Who
Wasn’t There (2001), Lost in Translation (2003), Under the Skin (2013), and
Vicky Christina Barcelona (2013). So far, she been able to balance her dual
careers as a superstar actor and indie icon quite effectively.
Adam Driver has a resume that is almost as impressive. He played Kylo Ren in
three Star Wars films, but he gave much more daring performances in Paterson and
Silence (both in 2013), and Meyerowitz Stories (2018) in which he previously
worked for the Baumbach.
The actors playing the attorneys, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda) are also
effective and their characters’ contrasting lawyering styles help keep our
attention. The characters also function to dramatically motivate the trajectory
of the two divorcing partner’s relationship.
Driver plays Charlie, an idealistic director of avant-garde theater who is
devoted to both his career and his family, but maybe a little more to his
career. Johannsson is his wife; Nicole has been content with playing a
supportive role in her husband’s career. Now she wants a stake in her own
territory, and she wants to split with her husband to do a TV show, which is set
in LA, far from the couple’s home in New York. Her husband disapproves of the
show and seems to think it is beneath her.
The greatest aspect of the film is the devastating dialogue exchanges between
the two main characters, which always hint at more than what they are literally
saying. By the time we see the complete implied history of the couple and hints
of the future, the collapse of the marriage seems to be as inevitable as the
In addition, it is shocking to see the two decent, loving romantic partners
increasingly turn nasty, and do and say more horrible things against each other.
The film might be a bit too much like real life for some filmgoers.
The main criticism I have of the movie (which some might find trivial) is that
the film is not particularly cinematic, and it never fully explores the
potential of the camera. Baumbach’s direction never quite rises to the level of
his writing, and the story would have been just as good if not better as a play.
Still, Marriage Story is a strong and impactful feature that is not always easy
to watch. Although, it ends up being painful and a bit excruciating, but it
succeeds admirably in capturing the hell of a failing relationship.