An actor (Scarlett Johansson) and her stage director husband (Adam Driver) struggle through a gruelling long distance divorce in this dramedy from Oscar nominee Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha). Nominated for the top prize at Venice, with co-star Laura Dern picking up Best Supporting Actress at the 2020 Academy Awards, Golden Globes and BAFTAs.
"Charlie (Driver) is a playwright who wants to stay in New York. Nicole (Johansson) is an actor who's landed a coveted television role that requires her to relocate to Los Angeles. Their geographical dispute tests an already strained relationship. As Marriage Story begins, the couple's divorce is already underway, with each enlisting legal squads deploying various tactics. Yet Baumbach's elegant narrative goes back and forth through time, showing how Charlie and Nicole fell in love and built a life together alongside a detailed, blow-by-blow chronicle of their marital dismantling." (Toronto International Film Festival)
Best Supporting Actress (Dern), Academy Awards 2020; Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Dern), Golden Globes 2020; Best Supporting Actress (Dern), BAFTAs
2019Rating: M, Mature themes, coarse language and sexual references137 minsUSA
It’s difficult to divorce this film from Baumbach’s own, real-life relationship with actress Jennifer Jason-Leigh. Where it feels a little egotistical at times, it’s also extremely self-reflective, giving a compassionate look at the tangled intricacies that accrue over a marriage. Tense and bitter in places, funny and tender in others, Marriage Story is a well-crafted study of love and compromise.
Some might feel that a film about the end of a marriage isn’t particularly entertaining, but for the performances alone, Marriage Story is an absolute treat – and one that might prompt you to reflect on your own relationship. More than this, it’s a tale of real people going through something statisticians suggest will affect up to half of all marriages.
For anyone who just sees Driver as Star Wars' Kylo Ren or Girls' Adam Sackler, this will be revelation. His Charlie is complex, flawed, a genius creative who has also neglected his partner's needs. He loves his family, but he seemingly loves his work more. Likewise, Johansson here, gives her best performance in years. It's a reminder of the actress who burst onto the scene with Lost in Translation and then owned 2013 with the dynamic duo of Under the Skin and Her.
Baumbach tries to be even-handed and succeeds to a point: Johansson does some of the best acting of her career, especially in an early monologue where Nicole articulates some of the frustrations she’s held back. But finally Charlie is the dominant figure, if not necessarily the more sympathetic: much of the film’s impact springs from Driver’s peculiar definite quality, the conviction he brings to each gesture.
The writing is suitably dense and literate, though Baumbach really cherishes the characters as individuals - it never feels as if Nicole and Charlie are avatars for his own poetic musings on the differences between love and fidelity.
It's the work of a major film artist, one who shows that he can capture life in all its emotional detail and complexity - and, in the process, make a piercing statement about how our society now works.