Review: Marriage Story

Marriage Story is a film about a couple who go through a divorce. That’s it. That’s the plot of the film in one line, and yet, it manages to be one of the most captivating and emotional films I’ve watched all year. 

The film was directed, written and produced by Noah Baumbach, who rocketed to success (and an Academy Award Nomination) with his 2005 film The Squid and the Whale, which shares some key similarities with this year’s work. Both are comedy-dramas that tell semi-autobiographical stories, and they both centre around a divorce. His 2005 film tells the story from the perspective of a child, informed by Baumbach’s experience of his parent’s divorce in childhood. Marriage Story, providing a nice contrast, is from the perspective of the parents (informed by his divorce with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2013). 

Baumbach’s true-to-life, expertly crafted script is further bolstered by incredible performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, as the two partners, Charlie and Nicole. Baumbach and the two leads work together masterfully to create a balanced and poignant portrayal of the complications of love and adulthood. 

The film managed to keep me completely enthralled for over 2 hours in a story that I’ve already summed up in 7 words. It never shies away from the messiness of a divorce, and it really shines as a result. Baumbach’s writing has always been excellent at portraying delicate, realistic familial relationships, and this is him at the top of his game. You might think that a director creating a film loosely based on his own divorce would tend to be one-sided, but Baumbach dedicates a roughly equal amount of screen time to both parties and in the end, you know they were both just trying to do right by their child.

The genre and tone of the film often shifts around, and despite frequent bursts of self-referential humour, the majority of the film has an almost thriller-esque building of tension, adding to the relatable drama of the situation. Seeing both characters navigating this emotional maze, with the ensuing release of tension in the main climactic argument, followed by an ending that is so raw and emotional that it feels like a punch in the gut followed by a reassuring kiss, was a journey that I thoroughly enjoyed going on.  Well, not so much enjoyed, but a journey that made me laugh, cry and analyse every aspect of my own love life.

The film may not be for everyone, but if you love watching excellent acting, looking at the intricacies of human relationships, or just want a good cry at some well-meaning, easy-to-empathise with characters, then this film is definitely for you.

Image Credit: IMDb