Writer-director Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, dropped on Netflix today. To sum up this review: it’s the best drama of 2019.
Words don’t do well enough to describe this film as tears would. It’s heartbreaking. There’s a lot said in Marriage Story, but it’s often what’s unsaid that’s most compelling.
There are several moments of suspended silence between the cerebral, lightning-fast dialogue that sparks emotion in a most visceral way. It’s a testament to Baumbach’s writing and direction, along with arguably career-best leading performances from Driver and Johansson.
Divorce as more than a two-sided story
Marriage Story is a contradictory title in and of itself, considering the movie’s primary subject matter. A story about marriage, yes, but one that’s ending in divorce.
Baumbach compellingly presents both sides of the couple’s conflict. You find yourself siding or empathizing more in parts of the story with Charlie and Nicole. However, it’s far more complicated than that.
Charlie and Nicole don’t want to involve lawyers in their divorce to start. Unfortunately, their initial good intentions don’t last, and a fight ensues for custody of their son, Henry — among other battles.
Nicole, an actress, gets a TV pilot that goes to series in Los Angeles. Charlie, a rising theatre director in New York City, ultimately has to rent a place in LA to be near Henry. But he’s all settled into school out there, and the initial plan for him and Nicole to return to New York goes awry.
It seems even without realizing it, Charlie and Nicole privately engage in character assassinations of each other when speaking with their lawyers. They still have love for each other, though, so it’s not as simple and straightforward as them being forthcoming about their partner’s flaws.
A sensational supporting cast
Laura Dern plays Nicole’s divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw, while Bert (Alan Alda) and later, Jay (Ray Liotta), legally advise Charlie.
Jay and Nora are friendly prior to initial divorce hearings. However, they’re cutthroat in the courtroom, and are purposely seated between Charlie and Nicole. On behalf of their clients, they twist the narrative in their favor.
Let’s not get into any more plot points, as it’s best to go into this movie with a vague understanding of it. No spoilers necessary. To circle back to the header: Dern feels like an Oscar favorite for Best Supporting Actress.
Nicole’s mother Sandra, played by Julie Hagerty, really drives home the complications in the divorcing couple’s relationship. She loves Charlie, and still treats him as her son-in-law even as the marriage is falling apart.
It’s difficult not to feed the hype…
I’m innately a little bit more empathetic toward acting and the creative process. Just getting a movie made is a miracle, but to see the top talent in this movie shine to the degree they do is unbelievably inspiring.
Let’s take a look at actor Alec Baldwin’s personal review:
His assessment is spot-on. There’s one scene in particular — again, without spoiling too much — where Charlie and Nicole argue. It’s the argument to end all arguments.
That scene alone single-handedly make Driver and Johansson locks for Oscar nominations. Renee Zellweger in Judy and Joker‘s Joaquin Phoenix feel like favorites for those leading accolades, but the Marriage Story stars both have a serious case.
Marriage Story review: Binge
- Streaming on Netflix
- Written & Directed by Noah Baumbach
- Starring Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern
An unsurprising verdict. I’ll admit: it’s difficult to be critical, but don’t just take my word for it. The film has settled in the upper 90s on Rotten Tomatoes. Plus, an audience score in the 80s is pretty strong, too.
What’s more: Netflix has four films legitimately positioned for awards season achievements. This is one of them, and Marriage Story will certainly net Best Original Screenplay and Best Director Academy Award nominations for Baumbach. However personal his story is, it has such raw emotional truth as to garner universal appeal.
Whatever the scorecard reads right now in the Streaming Wars, Netflix can say it’s winning at least over the past couple weeks. Between Martin Scorese’s The Irishman and Marriage Story, I mean, wow!
With a running time of two hours and 16 minutes, it’ll require some patience if you’re not in a certain mood. That said, Marriage Story is well worth watching ASAP before it gets spoiled for you on Twitter.
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