A love story revolving around a divorce—it sounds both simple and devoid of affection, but Noah Baumbach has written and directed a golden masterpiece of storytelling that will both pull on your heartstrings and have you tearing up with laughter. The destructive whirlwind of separation is painfully realized through a script and performances and will leave you in awe.
Former Hollywood actor Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) moved to New York after falling for theatrical director Charlie (Adam Driver). Years have past and they have a son, but now unstoppable differences have risen, leading Charlie to focus on work in the Big Apple while Nicole wishes to resume life in Los Angeles. Times have changed and the inevitability of divorce weighs heavy on them as a family.
Baumbach impeccably plots the see-sawing dynamics of Charlie and Nicole’s romantic disentanglement. The highs are feverish with a warmth and amicable nature whilst the lows are inundated with fraught anger, one-upmanship and embittered point scoring. The story is one of the most effective and loving stories centered on a fracturing aspect of life you’ll see since Kramer vs. Kramer.
The moments within their divorce settlement are peppered with the notion that a marriage breaking apart really does bring out the worst in people. The script bursts with anger during the trials of holding on to normality when nothing is what it once was. A certain court room scene is a perfect example of heated tension, but a single moment between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson is a sensational piece of explosive art that pours with outrage, grief and regret. All in all, their strained legal battle plays like a tennis match with both sides serving sets in a tough and emotional rally that will knock the wind right out of you.
Marriage Story isn’t as plainly carved as fighting and screaming though—there is fondness and quiet beauty to be found too. Tiny actions like tying a shoelace or cutting hair become deeply touching behaviors—ones that carry evocative feelings when seen in different circumstances. The little graces of the past beam through even the most shattered of marriages. Nicole and Charlie may be drifting apart, but you can breathe in their adoration and the complexity of change is flawlessly written.
On top of these small but meaningful human interactions is a scene that might just be the most brilliant and hilarious sequences of desperate events you’ll witness for a long time. The combination of Charlie’s keen hope to impress with a rollicking portrayal of a bland government observer becomes comedic genius. If you aren’t howling with laughter at this or crying through the painful strokes of Nicole and Charlie’s severe split, then you have no soul.
Laura Dern and Alan Alda are on on hand to expertly provide humor in the bleakest of situations but the heart of the feature does of course lie with Nicole and Charlie’s son Henry, who is the mediating factor among the upheaval. This little lad by the name of Azhy Robertson is a great figure of innocence, carrying on through the fascinating mess. Johansson and Driver are a monumental pair—both know when to boil over or crawl into themselves, and together they ensure the characters are captivating to behold. You cannot help but sympathize with them, warts and all.
Marriage Story will be available to stream December 6th on Neflix