One of the reasons Marriage Story is this good, is because it might be the deepest look into director Noah Baumbach's heart yet. I'm not entirely sure, but one could assume that Baumbach has based this work on experience. The New York native divorced from his wife- Annihilation actor Jennifer Jason Leigh- in 2013, the two had a son together, and if Marriage Story was any indication, things became ugly before they were good again. That mixture of his semi-autobiographical story, his wit, and honesty is the beauty of Baumbach's films. Baumbach documented his own parents divorce in The Squid and the Whale and with Marriage Story we see things from an outside, more adult point of view. It is safe to say that Baumbach has learned, grown from his personal experiences, and he has also gathered one of the best ensemble casts a director could ever ask for, lead by career best work from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver.
The opening scene is an emotional tone setter. The young couple share lists of the things they love about one another. Coinciding with the voice over, are images of the good times, loving glances they once shared, the little things that matter, a happy family together in New York. Those are just moments in the past and the reality is that Nicole and Charlie have grown apart. At first they have delusional thoughts, thinking it could be a simple separation, 50/50 custody of their child, still friends, just not married. Of course, that is not how things go, with Nicole wanting to live in Los Angeles to focus on her acting career, while Charlie is the director of his own theater company in New York. When Nicole hires legal counsel Nora Fanshaw (a spectacular supporting performance by Laura Dern), the issues of money comes into play for Charlie, but showing he fought for his son becomes a bigger factor. He hires his own lawyer, a gentle and kind as ever Alan Alda in that role, until he eventually must fight with fire and hires Ray Liotta's all business lawyer. Every moment before is used against one another in future court hearings, each one leveraging for more time with their child. The love they had before is just a distant memory.
The closest comparison of a film to Marriage Story is Kramer vs. Kramer, which was also a heartbreaking drama, but without the witty, tortured artists voice of Baumbach's behind the words. His writing has an incredible ability to be funny, sound authentic in every monologue, and completely aware of how true humans interact. It also helps to have, by far, the best working actor in Hollywood today- Adam Driver. His work in Marriage Story is nothing less than magnificent. The tall standing man, with chiseled features, shows off his fearless vulnerability, and a softer side this time. His work is reaching a whole new level, much different from his work in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Paterson, or his Oscar nominated performance in BlacKKKlansman. I could watch him act for hours, I never tire of his mesmerizing appeal, but for Marriage Story, Driver deserves any award that could go his way.
On top of Adam Driver's work, is a rousing production, one that includes beautiful sets, another flawless score by the legendary Randy Newman, and an entire cast that is on board with bringing this family struggle to life. Some will feel remorse watching Marriage Story, see the tragedy of love breaking apart, see their own families struggle in everything this couple goes through on screen. The final result is one of the best drama's in the past five to ten years, and undoubtedly Noah Baumbach's best work of all time. This director creates art from his experiences and all of cinema is better because of it. He's an instant auteur and Marriage Story just might be his masterpiece.
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: MARRIAGE STORY
STARRING: ADAM DRIVER; SCARLETT JOHANSSON; LAURA DERN; ALAN ALDA
DIRECTED BY: NOAH BAUMBACH
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
After seeing Marriage Story, maybe I lucked out on not witnessing my parents go through a long custody battle? It's a difficult question, isn't it? Would you rather your family be ripped apart like a quick band-aid, the way mine was, or would you rather experience the long, brutal process where you witness your parents' love crumble into ashes? I don't think it matters either way, both suck, and even though that may sound bleak, Noah Baumbach's new film showed me a ray of hope for the human condition. The underlying message is about finding your happiness and sometimes you need to go through hell just to get it. Marriage Story follows the divorce of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), with their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in the middle. Along the way, we laugh, we cry, we fill up with rage, but we know what it feels like to be alive. I unflinchingly say that Marriage Story is easily one of the best movies of 2019.