Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Movie Review: "Marriage Story" (2019)

Director: Noah Baumbach
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes

Charlie and Nicole are a couple living in New York, who are going through a divorce. Their amicable separation becomes volatile when Nicole relocates to Los Angeles for work and lawyers get involved in the situation.

Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) lay in bed with their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in Noah Baumbach's latest film "Marriage Story."
Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) lay in bed with their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in Noah Baumbach's latest film "Marriage Story." (Image Source)
Marriage is hard, but judging by writer/director Noah Baumbach's new Netflix original film "Marriage Story," divorce is a hell of a lot harder. This film focuses on the Barbers, an actress named Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), and a stage director/theater owner named Charlie (Adam Driver). After several years of marriage, they have decided to get divorced. They have both agreed to do so amicably and without lawyers. Nicole has just taken the starring role on a television show that shoots in Los Angeles. This means she must relocate to the west coast for work. Nicole and their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), decide to go and stay with her mother (Julie Hagerty) until she finds a place of her own in Hollywood. Charlie's most recent play is about to move to Broadway, and because his theater company is located in New York, he stays on the east coast. After speaking to a couple of people in the industry who have had their own experiences with divorce, Nicole hires Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), a notable high-powered family lawyer. When Charlie visits Henry for the first since the separation, Nicole asks her sister Cassie (Merritt Wever) to serve Charlie divorce papers. He is taken aback, so he seeks counsel with Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), a ruthless, high-priced divorce attorney known for his no holds barred approach.
Adam Driver stars as stage director and theater owner Charlie Barber in Noah Baumbach's drama "Marriage Story," available now on Netflix.
Adam Driver stars as stage director and theater owner Charlie Barber in Noah Baumbach's drama "Marriage Story," available now on Netflix. (Image Source)
Noah Baumbach has always had his finger on the pulse of indie filmmaking with projects like "Mistress America," "Frances Ha," "Greenberg," and "Kicking and Screaming." "Marriage Story" is his best, most significant, emotional, star-studded movie to date. We absolutely loved this film from beginning to end. We openly wept through most of it.

We can't help but wonder how much of himself Baumbach puts into his writing, especially with this particular script. There are several obvious parallels to his real-life experiences here. Like the character of Charlie, Baumbach is a dark-haired New York director with a lot of critical acclaim. He was once married to and had a child with Jennifer Jason Leigh who, like Nicole, is a Los Angeles-born actress who gained her initial fame in a teen sex comedy. We could also draw some similarities between the character of Nicole and Baumbach's current partner, Greta Gerwig, another California-born actress, who gained a prominent following because of her collaborations with Baumbach. Just like Charlie and Nicole, Baumbach and Gerwig live together in Brooklyn. What's the old adage? "Write what you know." Also applicable is "the best stories always have a little of yourself in them."

"Marriage Story" paints a devastating, realistic, poignant portrait of the divorce process. BigJ and I saw shades of both of our parents' experiences in this film. We also know people who have gone through painful and heartbreaking but equally vitriolic and vicious dissolutions as well. We know firsthand how seemingly innocuous comments, conversations, and incidents get blown out of proportion and twisted to fit deceitful narratives based on one perspective. We have watched what happens when trust gets broken, when people get pushed aside, and when selfish feelings dictate a relationship pre-and-post separation. We know all too well the string of watching people who still love each other be miserable in their lives together. Some people get to the point where there's no love lost, but they are unhappy, so staying together is detrimental for their children, their sanity, and their livelihood. We know what it's like to be affected by divorce, so we both identify with Baumbach's writing on an intimate, raw, hard-hitting level.

We've always loved Adam Driver, and we're thrilled to say he gives one of the best performances we've seen all year in Netflix's "Marriage Story." He is definitely the frontrunner for Best Actor, in our opinion. He puts so much heart, soul, vulnerability, and passion into his performance as Charlie. He is the kind of dad we all wish we could have, the kind who loves the ups and downs, the highs and lows of being a parent. He adores his son with every fiber of his being, but he and Nicole just aren't happy or "in love" anymore despite having a limitless love for each other. It doesn't help that Charlie never thought there was a problem, or that he was unaware, or that he was oblivious. Scarlett Johansson also gives a terrific performance here. She is totally deserving of being in the Best Actress conversation this year (though we give a slight edge to RenĂ©e Zellweger). Nicole is an attentive mother who listens wholeheartedly and loves to play. As a lover, Nicole merged herself with Charlie and did what he wanted in all manners of speaking. She gave up what she wanted to do because he wasn't really interested and had his own things going on. What she needed never came to fruition, which compounded the issues that were already there in their marriage. As they drifted apart, as comments got shrugged off, and as they were left to stew in silence, it created an irrevocable situation. There are no clear winners and no clear losers. Through all the fights and discontent, their love for their son never faltered, they just happened to stop being content with each other. Driver and Johansson embody these roles totally and completely with conviction and authenticity.

As the story strolls through Nicole and Charlie's life together, we watch them attempt to be peaceful with each other before it all falls apart. Once lawyers get involved, their situation becomes much more contentious as whispers are magnified and spread like wildfire. Nora and Jay deal with divorce day in and day out. They only see people at their worst because they are only told the most damaging and harmful parts of each relationship. They systematically pick Nicole and Charlie apart so they can put another "W" down on their record and be victorious for their client no matter the cost, regardless of the damage that gets done. They don't hear about or care about the happy times because they see humanity at its worst. Laura Dern and Ray Liotta also give amazing performances as two relentless attorneys vying and clawing and advocating for their clients to get them the upper hand in what was supposed to be a smooth, easy, amicable case.
In Netflix's "Marriage Story," Nora (Laura Dern), a high-powered family law attorney, represents Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) in her divorce from Charlie (Adam Driver)
In Netflix's "Marriage Story," Nora (Laura Dern), a high-powered family law attorney, represents Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) in her divorce from Charlie (Adam Driver). (Image Source)
Noah Baumbach has crafted a truly spectacular film in Netflix's "Marriage Story." His superbly written, gut-punchingly realistic dialogue and masterful direction should easily land him several nominations come Oscars time. It's complex, compelling, genuine, and depressing. It is exceedingly well-acted. This is one of the best, most flawless films of 2019, and we loved it so, so much.

My Rating: 10/10
BigJ's Rating: 10/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.4/10
RT Rating: 96%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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