REVIEW: Marriage Story (London Film Festival 2019)
As a huge fan of Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, I was very much looking forward to see him tackling the difficult theme of divorce once again, and Marriage Story absolutely did not disappoint.
This is arguably Baumbach’s most accomplished directorial offering, and there’s a real polish to this beautifully tragic tale of a marriage falling apart. To tackle a story like this takes a huge amount of tact, and this is one of the things that the film seems to have in abundance. It never takes sides and it never forces you towards one viewpoint or another, and the result is that you care so deeply for all parties involved. Of course this does mean the entire film will shatter you, but in the most exceptionally beautiful way possible.
It is undoubtedly heartbreaking and emotionally devastating, but also funny, touching, and surprisingly uplifting in places. The family dynamics feel very real and honest, and the moments of catharsis and release are sparse and perfectly pitched, despite their intensity. It is an emotionally raw and revealing look at divorce and the effect it has on all parties involved, being particularly refreshingly honest about the financial impact it can have.
The film also examines the differences between places and mentalities, with our couple very much coming from different worlds, and the pull of each is too strong to keep them together. It looks at the sacrifices couples make, and the true cost of that in terms of its impact on someone’s happiness. It is about compromise, but also the acknowledgement that sometimes even love isn’t strong enough to tie together two people who have ambitions so far removed from each other.
It may be a little early to be talking about the Oscar race, but both the performances from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are fully deserving of nominations, and it would be a huge surprise not to see them both received some recognition. Johansson has a raw emotional quality to her in this film which is unlike anything I have seen from her before. She is never the victim, but there is a vulnerability to her which surfaces in her first conversation with her lawyer Nora (played by an effervescent Laura Dern), that is just heartbreaking to watch. Adam Driver has never been better than he is in this film. He is so charismatic and has such a commanding screen presence, but it is the emotional intensity of his performance here that is so incredible; you simply can’t take your eyes off him. Both performances showcase their talents but yet are never “showy”, and that is down to the exquisite writing, and carefully drawn character arcs. Across the board, the performances are amazing. Laura Dern, as mentioned, appears to be having tremendous amounts of fun in her role, and the always fantastic Julie Hagerty steals every single scene she is in. They not only bolster the central performances, but also help to enhance that raw honesty that makes the film so wonderful.
Beautifully observed, expertly acted and exceptionally well crafted, Marriage Story is an honest and melancholic film that will make you laugh one minute, and break your heart the next. This is easily Noah Baumbach’s best film; an accomplished, masterful, and utterly heartbreaking piece of filmmaking.
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Merritt Wever,
Release Date: 6th December 2019