Marriage Story

Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5   MUST must see SEE

Marriage Story
dir-scr Noah Baumbach
prd Noah Baumbach, David Heyman
with Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, Mark O'Brien, Brooke Bloom, Kyle Bornheimer, Wallace Shawn
release US 6.Nov.19,
UK 6.Dec.19
19/US Netflix 2h16

dern alda liotta
london film fest

johansson and driver
An almost forensic exploration of the end of a marriage, this drama is of course infused with sadness but thankfully never turns mopey or maudlin. This is perhaps due to writer-director Noah Baumbach's attention to detail, which gives the film the honesty of a singular story. So while it may not be hugely resonant to everyone, these characters and the way they interact is powerfully involving. And it's anchored by a particularly strong role for Adam Driver.
In New York, Charlie and Nicole (Driver and Johansson) have been together for 10 years and have lively 8-year-old son Henry (Robertson). They can remember why they fell in love, but are feeling isolated as Charlie lives for his work as a theatre director. Now actress Nicole is beginning to resent what she gave up to move cross-country from Los Angeles. When she gets a TV pilot, she moves home to her supportive mother (Haggerty), with her sister Cassie (Wever) nearby. And she decides hires a shark-like lawyer (Dern) to file for divorce.
With its observational dialog and scenes that spiral in unexpected directions, the film echoes Woody Allen, including constant digs at the NY-LA divide. Charlie and Nicole progress through a variety of stages over the course of this long movie, from conciliatory to sad to angry and back again. These stages are sometimes difficult to watch, especially when things turn nasty between the lawyers (Alda and Liotta represent Charlie). And it's all played with a bracing, straight-on frankness.

Johansson beautifully captures Nicole's emotional undercurrents, holding in deep pain over the breakup of her family. Her fear and anger erupt unexpectedly as she tries to maintain her equilibrium for her son. Opposite her, Driver has an even more complex role as a man who can't quite understand why all of this is happening, shocked to the core by each step in the process, knowing he's somehow responsible. His slow grind is played with heart-wrenching honesty, leading to a show-stopping rendition of Sondheim's Being Alive.

Baumbach perhaps should have ended the film there, but he carries on for one more extended sequence that offers a glimpse of the future. His script is finely constructed to carry the audience through the story, travelling in small circles and sometimes repeating moments or words to bring a wallop of emotion. Essentially, this is about two people who deeply love each other but decide to hurt each other anyways. So it will also feel eerily familiar to most viewers.

cert 15 themes, language 6.Oct.19 lff

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall