Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story is a top-drawer drama with outstanding performances from its leads. The film is heart-wrenching, observant, and very real.
Charlie and Nicole’s marriage has come to an end. The couple navigate divorce proceedings and custody of their son at a fraught time…
Writer-director Noah Baumbach has made a career of focusing on the relationships of people, be they romantic, familial or friendship. His latest is truly a magnificent film. Marriage Story focuses on a relationship at its end, with a separated couple coming to terms with the end of their marriage and the co-parenting of their son.
The opening sequence is an excellent introduction to the protagonists, their past relationship, and indeed how the film will play out. Baumbach indicates how the narrative will pan out, with the couple each extolling the virtues of the other. The film remains even handed in its depiction of the two protagonists throughout. Baumbach does not attempt to paint one as the villain and one as the victim. Instead, the film ebbs and flows with Charlie seeming more sympathetic at times, and Nicole at others.
The beauty of Marriage Story is that the emotions depicted appear wholly authentic. The film focuses on a painful and stressful time in its protagonists’ lives and these feelings bubble to the surface in a realistic manner. Baumbach runs the gambit of tears to laughter in his exploration of what happens once a couple decides to separate. The filmmaker gives no allusions of a fairytale ending. There is anger, bitterness, and sadness. Yet the love, both past and present, remains. In this way, Baumbach illustrates the very essence of complicated relationships.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver remarkable performances as Charlie and Nicole. They are completely convincing as a fractured couple, and in their portrayal of sadness, anger, and indeed amusement. Casting in the film deserves to be applauded, particularly in the choice of Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda as divorce lawyers. Dern in particular is typically great as the firebrand lawyer.
With Marriage Story, Noah Baumbach once again proves to be a shrewd observer of the human condition. The film is intense, touching, and very impressive. This is Baumbach’s strongest film to date.
Marriage Story is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.