Review: Marriage Story

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Netflix

"Marriage Story," directed by Noah Baumbach, is currently free on Netflix and stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.

Avery Lester, Staff Writer

Their names are Charlie and Nicole and they love each other.  They live in the crowded New York City and have an 8-year-old son named Henry. They are married but are filing for divorce. The Netflix original Marriage Story, directed by Noah Baumbach, is not only a movie, but a genuine emotional experience. It hits every note with such precision and heart that it has become one of the great viewing experiences of my life.

Marriage Story is a dense and wonderful film. On one hand, it’s a film about people, but on the other, it’s a movie about why people are the way they are. It doesn’t follow the status quo. It’s a refreshing and genius take on modern relationships and marriages. Baumbach has proved himself worthy to be included with other great directors. His film Marriage Story speaks for itself.

The film begins with narration by both Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) listing off reasons why they love each other. However, in the coming scene, the audience learns they are actually filing for divorce. Nicole, an ex-Hollywood movie star, moved to New York City when she married Charlie and has since done local theatre with him. But now, Nicole wants to move back to Los Angeles and she’s taking Henry with her.

Over the course of the next two hours, the film follows Nicole and Charlie in their legal fight for custody of Henry and their struggle to adjust to life without each other. They argue, debate, and scream at each other. But they also laugh and reminisce about the good times they shared together. Marriage Story shows everything about the experience of marriage and divorce. The film is semi-autobiographical. Baumbach’s parents divorced when he was in his youth. Baumbach knows what it feels like to be in the middle. Because of that, Marriage Story‘s authenticity shines bright.

In its most simplest form, Marriage Story is about two broken people. But how and why are they broken? What drives their emotions? Why are they filing for divorce? Each one of these questions receive thorough and meaningful answers during the film. But it’s the journey to those answers that kept me constantly invested in the story and characters.

Perhaps the greatest, and most striking, triumph of Marriage Story comes from the jaw dropping performances. Driver and Johansson provide two of the greatest performances of the decade. I make no hyperbole when I say these two actors give some of the greatest acting that I’ve ever had the privilege to see. But the powerhouse performances don’t come from just Driver and Johansson. Supporting actors like Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Azhy Robertson are truly terrific. The magnificent performances are partly due to pure dramatic talent. But credit also goes to Baumbach’s brilliant script that the actors have to work with.

The film draw many influences from Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage and Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer, two movies about the fall of a seemingly happy and healthy marriage. Even though clear influences can be detected from past masterworks, Marriage Story still feels fresh and genuine. It doesn’t repeat the stale tropes of modern day relationships in cinema.

It’s natural for films about relationships to angle the writing and story to benefit a certain character. But Marriage Story is not a traditional relationship movie. It takes no sides. The viewer sees both arguments the parents make and we are genuinely torn on who to choose. Because Baumbach went through his parent’s divorce, he knows exactly how to write a rich story in a way that is moving to the viewer and also gives so much perspective from each character.

The production elements of the film are also superb. The production and costume design are a sight to see. And the editing by Jennifer Lame is always on point as well. But Randy Newman, composer of Toy Story, is the true technical star. He composed the melancholy score for Marriage Story with a number of haunting piano pieces. The mood of scenes constantly matches the soundtrack perfectly. Each one of the elements never feels out of touch with what is happening on screen. It always feels natural.

Quite simply, Marriage Story is without a doubt the best film of the year. It’s been a while since a film has engrossed me completely with its engaging and entertaining story. It’s been a while since a film has left me completely speechless. But upon watching Marriage Story, my faith in cinema was restored. I’m thankful movies like Marriage Story and filmmakers like Noah Baumbach exist. He just wants to tell stories that are meaningful to him and hopefully meaningful to others. He just wants to share, learn, and inspire. After all, that’s what the movies are for.