Noah Baumbach’s latest is a heartbreaking American masterpiece
Likely to be regarded as one of the best films of the year come awards season, MARRIAGE STORY is a masterful exploration of the marriage, divorce and everything in between. With a talky yet potent narrative structure that shifts the action to the most intricate details in the life of an everyday couple, this is intimate storytelling at its best. Those who have been in married relationships will be truly heartbroken by it and will see it as an emotional, disturbing and perhaps eye-opening experience, while those still doubling down on their loveless lives, taking pride in their no-strings-attached single status will view it as a cerebral experience that speaks to the structure, nature and consequences of marriage.
While likely to be less impacted emotionally by it than those who have endured loss after love, breakups after strong attachments and divorce after marriage, the film speaks to multiple life experience and questions the bonds that bind and the disputes that can break a marriage. Reminiscent of great American films that explore inward emotions, personal crises and intimate dilemmas, MARRIAGE STORY takes a story of a couple and makes it truly universal. The film may be a bit long, but its talky, lengthy conflict scenes add much depth and conviction to a simple story about a marriage gone wrong.
Though deceptively simple without a grand-scale production or much action happening on screen, MARRIAGE STORY is the kind of film that isn’t interested in flexing its muscles; rather encouraging its viewers to look within and ponder about the smallest of details in their love life. For a film so specific, measured and genuine, it succeeds on every level to create a pitch-perfect story thanks to one of the best screenplays of the year, unshowy but inspired direction and impeccable acting particularly by Adam Driver. While Scarlett Johansson delivers one of her best performances as Nicole, conveying the character’s resilience, strength and revenge. The character may not be as sympathetic as viewers could expect but Johansson captures her humanity, determination and strength in fantastic ways that neither underplays nor overplays her anger. It’s a carefully measured performance that fits perfectly; but the real star of the show is Adam Driver who gives an incredible performance as Charlie.
Perhaps aided by a slight partial treatment in the script, Charlie is somewhat more fleshed out and two dimensional in the script, as we see the aftermath of the divorce on a man in denial, clinging to what he once had and refusing to fully realize what the future may hold. As a bruised man weathering personal and professional storms, Driver fully embodies the film’s themes, portraying with utter intensity what it means to walk away from love and yet being still unable to move on. A mix of pride, stubbornness and genuine love, Driver delivers a standout performance full of emotion, aided by strong support from Johansson and a fantastic – if under-used, Laura Dern and Alan Alda.
Ultimately, A MARRIAGE STORY is a definitive story for our times; speaking to our incapacity to sometimes forgive, forget, move on and unwillingness to let go of pride, agony and memories. A complex film in which every frame and every dialogue speaks to a much more universal tableaux of human relationships, Baumbach manages to deliver a singular film that transcends the marriage crisis genre only to offer something quite rare to see. And when the film blasts off with long, explosive dialogue scenes between its talented co-stars, it truly soars and delivers something so arresting to watch.
Verdict: A storytelling marvel, A MARRIAGE STORY is unlike any other marital crisis film you’ve seen. Elegant, eloquent, deep and heartbreaking, it is a film that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it. One of the most deceptively simple, yet incredibly layered films of the year.
This review is from the 44th Toronto International Film Festival. Netflix will release Marriage Story in select theaters on November 6 and then on their streaming platform December 6.