By Bradley Lane
Intimacy with another person is one of the most human experiences one can be a part of, and it is intimacy that is at the center of writer-director Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story. However, the film focuses not on two people falling in love with one another, rather the story is all about their divorce after a few years of tumultuous marriage. At the heart of the narrative is the idea that vulnerability and openness are required to sustain a relationship, but those same traits can so easily be weaponized to hurt the other person. Through exploration of these ideas Marriage Story serves as a poetic reaffirmation of the value of intimacy in relationships, while exploring, and even accentuating, the pain and danger associated with fully opening yourself up to another person.
The film follows Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they navigate an often tricky and ill-communicated divorce that tears their family between two sides of the country, New York and L.A. Nicole is under the impression that their son Henry’s best environment would be amongst her family in L.A. where he would have the support of a stable household surrounded by his cousins and a loving aunt and grandmother. Conversely, Charlie runs a theater company in New York where the family had been living together and sees Henry’s best option to uphold the status quo in New York. The film becomes a sometimes funny, often devastating, and ultimately reassuring tug-of-war between the two parties as they struggle to adjust to the complexities of maintaining a separated family.
Marriage Story begins with, first Charlie, then Nicole listing off what it is about the other person they fell in love with during their relationship and parenting of their son Henry. After learning about the characters from the perspective of one another we are ingeniously introduced to the characters’ flaws, strengths and insecurities of the two that perfectly set the stage for the film’s events. Only made more impactful by Driver’s, and especially Johansson’s, career defining performances.
Despite centering on a divorce Baumbach’s film is assuredly hopeful when it comes to relationships. His script never feels like it sides with either Charlie or Nicole; rather, it shifts focus on to their motivations for their actions and how those actions affect the other person. This approach never feels lopsided; rather throughout the narrative we deeply relate to both characters so that once we arrive at the emotional finale of the film, the audience is forced to reconcile with the fact that despite a long and ugly divorce, these characters still must depend on one another. This dependency requires a level of vulnerability with one another they will never be able to hide from.
Marriage Story is a beautiful look into one of the most difficult experiences two people could ever have to go through together and is one of the year’s most thoughtful and tender films.
– 5/5 stars