A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a gruelling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.
Autumn leads to winter, as leaves fall and lush landscapes turn barren, before being swamped in cold waves and snow. As beautiful as the colours of spring and summer are, there is a fatal beauty in autumn and winter too. Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story tackles one such autumn — the end of a relationship — in all its raw pain.
If you go in cold, the opening scenes are such that you’d probably have no idea what’s coming up next. And once you get to know that it’s a divorce drama, you’d still be pleasantly surprised at the tenderness with which Baumbach handles the story. Nicole and Charlie Barber have been married for 10 years and living in New York with their 8 year old son Henry when they decide that things aren’t working out. As audience, it is easy to be pulled into a vortex of “who’s the guilty party here?” thinking. And the fact that the movie showcases the failings and fears of both of them equally makes it almost impossible to break it down as such.
The best thing about the film is the depiction of how the divorce process tears both the spouses. The same person with whom you created a new life and had dreams of a better tomorrow becomes someone you don’t even recognize. At the same time, the emotional and physical demands of the process wreak havoc on both. Time and again, while watching the film, I was reminded of 1979’s excellent Kramer vs Kramer.
The film is also a critique of the way the legal system is designed in case of a divorce. It makes it extremely hard to have amicable solutions. Not being familiar with the legal process in the US, it was a learning experience too for me.
The writing is amazing throughout. The screenplay has plenty of scenes with long dialogues, and they’re so well written and performed that they look completely organic. Not once does it seem that a dialogue is superfluous to the story. The standout scene arrives late in the film, where we see a build-up of emotions over the course of an ultimately-explosive argument. It’s excellent. Here’s the director breaking the scene down (minor spoilers).
As for the portrayals, both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver deserve their Oscar nominations. Johansson has shown time and again, unlike many of her Marvel co-stars, that she can succeed outside that ecosystem too. This film is an amazing milestone in that journey. I have enjoyed Driver’s recent work, including Logan Lucky and BlackKKlansman. He likely won’t win the Oscar this year, but this second nomination is another feather in his cap.
Laura Dern is the standout from among the supporting cast as Nicole’s attorney. She’s all of tough, convincing, tender and harsh. Her sparrings with Charlie’s attorneys are superb. I enjoyed her work in Big Little Lies, and she delivers another knockout here. She does have a strong case for the Best Supporting gong at the Oscars. Alan Alda has a fabulous part as one of the attorneys, and his scenes with Driver are truly warm. In one of them, he is sitting at a table and advising Charlie, gesturing with his left hand. All this while, his right hand is trembling. Alda is 83, but I’m sure it was part of the character, not his own age that caused the tremors. Fabulous.
The cinematography is neat, with bright frames that mirror the external calm that the protagonists are trying to maintain in the face of the inner storms they’re faced with.
Marriage Story doesn’t attempt to attach a grand theme to the story, but its unflinching, intimate and compassionate portrayal is what movies are about – making us laugh, cry and feel alive.
Here’s the trailer:
Featured image courtesy.
Thanks for reading. If you’ve watched the film, what are you thoughts on the same? Tell me in the comments section. You can also connect with me on Twitter @bloggeray23.