Review: Marriage Story (TIFF 2019)

Marriage Story (TIFF 2019)
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PLOT: A stage director (Adam Driver) and his actress wife (Scarlett Johansson) struggle to get through an increasingly hostile divorce.

REVIEW: They say write what you know, and certainly writer-director Noah Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY seems to come from an intensely personal place, with the director having gone through his own divorce with ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh a few years back. Always a talented director, with a filmography that includes THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES, FRANCES HA and several others, MARRIAGE STORY is the one that makes the case for Baumbach being one of the greats.

The type of film that could go on to become a classic along the lines of KRAMER VS KRAMER, this is a delicately woven divorce story told with great empathy for both sides. No one is the villain here. Both have their good points and their petty points, but in many ways this is a love story, opening up with a montage where Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) first layout exactly what it is they love about each other. This conveys their genuine love for each other, and the tragedy of the film is showing how frayed it gets by the often merciless process of ending a marriage. Through it all, they’ll always be connected thanks to their shared history and their beloved son, who becomes the battleground they fight over.

Both Driver and Johansson are at their career-best here as halves of the torn-up couple. Driver’s gone on to have a really interesting career as a leading man, and he’s among the few that can make someone as occasionally pompous as the somewhat arch Charlie not only palatable but likeable. The same goes for Johansson, with her as Charlie’s muse, a former teen star who left her career behind to go work on stage with him. It’s not a case of either partner particularly stifling the other, and MARRIAGE STORY doesn’t present either as being in the wrong. As in most divorces, it’s shown to simply be a build-up of petty resentments, on her side the fact that he kept her away from Hollywood, on his that she pushed him into marriage and seemingly doesn’t appreciate how he helped build up her talent.

marriage story Scarlet Johansson Adam DriverWhile both characters are privileged, the film also does a good job at showing the economic devastation a divorce can cause, and how both sides have to occasionally be cruel to get what they want. Laura Dern’s probably a front runner for best-supporting actress at the Oscars now for her part as Johansson’s viper-like attorney, while Ray Liotta is her male counterpart. The great Alan Alda has a great, late-career role as one of the more compassionate attorneys consulted with by the couple, and while Driver and Johansson are the focus, the entire cast is superb, including Julie Hagerty and Merritt Wever.

It’s unlikely we’ll be able to honestly say that we’ve seen a better-acted movie this year by the time 2019 draws to a close, with everyone meshing so well with their parts that it feels like you’re watching both Johansson and Driver reinventing themselves right up there on the screen. Driver, in particular, has a knockout moment where he sings Stephen Sondheim’s “Being Alive” that’s a showstopper, and it’s crazy that he’s going to have two such good awards caliber films out this fall, between this and THE REPORT (and let’s not forget his return trip to a galaxy far, far away).

One of the good things about MARRIAGE STORY being a Netflix film is that it’ll play to a potentially huge audience, meaning more people than will have come out to see it in theatres will give it a chance on streaming, helping its chances of becoming a real benchmark film about divorce. I can only imagine how many people will be able to relate deeply to its depiction of a marriage going down the tubes, and surely it’s one of the best films I’ve seen at TIFF so far this year.

Source: JoBlo.com

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