WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a gruelling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) yells from across the room, angry about the life and love she's lost. Charlie (Adam Driver) holds his head in his hands and sinks to the floor, having already lost everything. Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is an honest and truly heart-rending telling of what it's like to go through a divorce that breaks you, but has you trying desperately to keep it together for the sake of the life you hope to live at the end of it all.
If you start streaming Marriage Story on Netflix expecting a plot twist – if you expect it to be about anything but that – you're probably going to be disappointed and feel like it's a really long and boring movie about divorce. The film explores the uncoupling of two people who were once hopelessly in love, but are now trying to dissolve their marriage with as few casualties as possible. There's nothing remarkable or extraordinary about this story – though the way things eventually work out, perhaps, is – but the acting, directing and the feeling you get watching it, is what makes it a film worth seeing.
Both Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver give brilliant performances to a story that would otherwise have been rather mundane. There are scenes where you see Johansson emotionless – stoic – before she rests her head on her pillow and cries herself to sleep. Adam Driver expertly switches between calm and collected, and desperate and defeated. And then there's their undeniable chemistry that turns their most ordinary, everyday scenes into extraordinary encounters – their humdrum fights into explosive brawls.
Marriage Story is based on director, Noah Baumbach's own divorce from actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh, as well as the very many people he knew who had gone through something similar. He told Deadline it was a "personal" exploration, which also resulted in his brilliant telling of the story. Baumbach uses both drama and comedy to tell a rather tragic tale, and with a warmer colour palette too, even manages to keep all the best tropes of the romantic comedy, having you switch between laughter and tears. The best part for I think many will be his telling of the story though, through both the perspectives of Charlie and Nicole, revealing the real magic of the film: its relatability.
There isn't a bad guy in this whole thing. Both Charlie and Nicole play their own protagonist and each other's antagonist, mostly because in a divorce where two people once really loved each other – as the film makes a point to show from the opening sequence – neither party really wins. With that, whether you relate to Nicole's reason for leaving or Charlie's struggle for custody, there are moments when both characters are unlikeable and others where your heart completely breaks for them.
This marriage story is every bit as ordinary and devasting as it sounds but, with spectacular storytelling, and brilliant performances, it reminds you even the worst of them can be survived.