How can you remove someone that has become synonymous with you and your life? Someone so interwoven that is seems impossible to separate without making some form of mess. This very question runs through Noah Baumbach’s simultaneously heart-breaking and heart-warming love story wrapped in a divorce.
Marriage Story takes it time to really tell us why this couple are divorcing, because its more concerned about why they were together in the first place. This is a tale of two people: Charlie and Nicole. Excellent opening “What I love about…” monologues serve as brilliant introductions to our couple, whilst also establishing their relationship. It’s funny, sweet and immediately paints a strong picture of who they are, and what their relationship was. Within a short amount of time we are attached to these characters and already feel remorseful over the loss of a relationship we have only seen in a montage.
These characters can’t be talked about without mentioning who plays them. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are mesmerizing. Full of life, character, charm, all the while carrying the weight and suffering of the end of their romantic tale. The two deliver such raw and powerful performances, filling up every one of the long lamenting shots with pure emotion. There is some great support too, with the callous and red-faced Ray Liotta and the sweet yet stern, Laura Dern as the opposing divorce lawyers.
On top of the performances, is a fastidious and extensive script. This is a dialogue driven film. A five-minute confiding one-sided conversation on the changing nature of the relationship, or a ten-minute argument scene where the scrupulous and laborious process of divorce and the manipulation included become too much. These are great scenes, and there are many genuine moments clearly taken from real experiences sprinkled throughout the film. Yet occasionally the dialogue fades the guise of this story, teetering on the verge of becoming over-dramatic. Often appearing as actors acting lines with teary eyes and quivering voices. These feel like meaty scenes that would surely be an actor’s delights – and the actors do chew them up with flare – yet some of these moments are more akin to a stage play, much like those in the film, despite the authenticity elicit in other moments.
Whatever may be said about the dialogue, the script manages to do excellent job of balancing the audiences’ favour between these two characters. One person may watch and side with Charlie, while the other Nicole. There is no primary antagonist or protagonist, just two people in a difficult situation. Tension is raised as manipulation, caution and insecurities begin to take play. A pair that know so much about each other now at odds with one another can be a dangerous thing, and Baumbach exploits this to a saddening and unnerving degree.
Marriage Story has a lot of heart and Driver and Johansson are the blood pumping through it’s veins. It would be of no surprise to see at least one get a nomination at the Oscars – although I’d lean toward Driver. It plays with your emotions, as you are happy one moment, full of dread the next and then hit with a delayed sense of sadness. It is well written, if not a little over done in some moments, yet leaves you with a lingering happiness that you were witness, in part, to their love despite it coming to an end. As the title suggests, this is a story about a marriage, not a divorce.