Balancing humour with intensely emotional scenes, MARRIAGE STORY is an incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together
If anyone knows how to craft a human story about love, life and family, it’s Noah Baumbach. Back in 2005, the American Director made a film essentially about the divorce of his parents – THE SQUID AND THE WHALE – told from the perspective of a child. Almost 15 years later, Baumbach is back tackling the messy issue of divorce once again with his latest feature – MARRIAGE STORY – this time in the adult seat.
Charlie (Adam Driver) is a successful theatre director on the cusp of directing his first Broadway show, while Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is a California-born actress who has slipped from fame after she moved to New York City to star in her husband’s avant-garde plays. As their separation progresses toward divorce, Nicole takes a job in Los Angeles, taking their eight year old son with her. But as couple attempt to formalise the divorce, their dream of keeping things amicable slowly dissolves as lawyers get involved and the pair fight to keep themselves and their son happy.
Balancing humour with intensely emotional scenes, MARRIAGE STORY is an incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together. This is a deeply personal and moving story, Baumbach carefully balancing our sympathies between the two incredibly flawed and unbelievably real characters to make this already poignant story even more impactful.
In terms of performance, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver their career-best work here, Johansson in particular fully embodying the suffering, broken woman and mother who is trying to find her voice that she lost so long ago. Baumbach gives Driver and Johansson plenty of moments to shine, focusing in on their performances with often startling long takes and beautiful cinematography that you feel that you can’t take your eyes off the screen for even just a second.
Yet, understandably, MARRIAGE STORY isn’t an easy watch. While, for the most part, Baumbach balances the humour well, this is ultimately a story about a family falling apart, the script firmly tugging at the heart of our emotions throughout.
Despite its economical plot, this is also slow burner, Baumbach taking his time here as we observe the gradual unravelling of a marriage, the pleasure – and agony – lying in the details.
That said, if you’re a fan of Baumbach’s previous work, you’re sure to enjoy MARRIAGE STORY. This is a rich and mature piece of work, its poignant message about life, love and personal growth sure to resonate with almost everyone, whether you’ve been touched by divorce or not.
MARRIAGE STORY screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 6 October 2019
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.