Marriage Story (2019): Film Review
Ever since I first witnessed a Noah Baumbach movie, which happens to be my least favorite film of his movies I have seen (While We're Young), I knew that these were movies like none other. They told relatively simple stories in relatively simple settings, but they felt so advanced, as if the calculus behind the movie was perfect in every way whatsoever. Baumbach's films feel lightly hipster, while often ranging in the grey area between pretentious and stereotypical. As I watched more of his movies, including The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Frances Ha, The Squid and the Whale, and one of my all time favorite movies, Mistress America, I knew that my suspicions about Baumbach's filmmaking proved to be correct. Marriage Story is a Noah Baumbach picture, and that much is obvious from the first five minutes, where the viewer is graced with intense feelings of love and resentment from the get-go. But it has this sense, this sense of belonging, that no other Baumbach film has been able to fully master. It is an expertly written cinematic experience that is able to consistently grace the lines of a laugh out loud comedy and a heart wrenching drama without being too much of one or the other. It is movies like Marriage Story that have the power to remind the world of why film is such a powerful meaning, and how movies can truly bottle so many aspects of the world into a defined run-time.
The film tells the story of Charlie and Nicole, a theater company director and actress who are going through a divorce. But, from the opening scene, it is obvious that Baumbach isn't planning on telling the stereotypical story about divorce, where the couple can't even bear to look at each other without breaking into hysterics. Instead, the film crafts a couple who's love is absent, but also timeless at the same time. You never truly feel the separation that the couple is going through when they are together, but it lurks there, haunting the viewer as Charlie and Nicole go through various fights, custody feuds, and legal battles. And that might just be what makes Marriage Story so powerful, heartbreaking, and amazing - it always feels like the two are in love, even when it is painfully obvious that they are not. It's a lot to bear, especially with a 136 minute running time, but not one second of the movie feels wasted.
This is a movie where everything is at its best - simple as that. Adam Driver delivers what might just be the performance of his career as Charlie, a loving but sometimes arrogant husband who is just trying to make sense of the situation in front of him. In the role of Nicole, Scarlett Johannson delivers an often silent but deadly performance that feels so simple on its surface, but is riddled with so many emotions at once, just like the film itself. Charlie and Nicole just can't exist without Driver and Johannson, that much becomes obvious right from the opening act of the movie, where an idyllic picture of the couple is painted and subsequently ripped up to pieces, right in front of the audience's eyes. This mix of emotions provided in the scene, and throughout the movie, can be attributed completely to Baumbach's script, which focuses on making a film that can function both as a hilarious lighthearted comedy and a serious heavy drama film. The subject matter of the film is nothing to laugh about, but Baumbach really crafts a movie that shows the joy in the little things, while also showing the pain that can come with them too.
Another important aspect of Marriage Story that helps it function at the best standard it possibly can is that it is a movie focused on the idea of "perspective". The movie isn't tied down to Charlie or Nicole's point of view, and it instead shows different parts of the story from each of their views. Baumbach uses these alternate perspectives to also highlight the over-arching theme and idea of New York versus Los Angeles, and how the two cities are so completely different from each other. While Charlie represents the packed in chaos of New York City, Nicole represents the vast space of Los Angeles, and in the scenes where the two are together, the difference between the two cities is often highlighted beneath the surface of the dialogue being spoken.
The thing about Marriage Story is that it can be heard to handle at times - in fact, there will be times where emotions might just get the better of the viewer. And that is more than okay. Noah Baumbach has crafted a film that will take viewers on a journey, through Nicole and Charlie's struggle with each other, and the redemption that also comes with this struggle. So, sit back, in the theater or at home, and just let the film take over you for two hours and sixteen minutes, because Baumbach has expertly crafted a story, and world, that deserves all the praise it has been getting, and all of the praise it will get once the film is available to worldwide. Marriage Story is a revelation, and one of the most important movies of the year. And that fact becomes painfully obvious within the first two minutes of the film's running time.