Marriage Story Review
After the excellent Meyerowitz Stories, auteur Noah Baumbach returns to Netflix for another superbly incisive drama, bringing Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver along for the brutal ride.Eliciting one of Adam Sandler's best proper performances, Baumbach's Meyerowitz Stories is something of an underrated gem on the streaming giant, bringing the best out of not only Sandler, but also Ben Stiller and Dustin Hoffman too, as it weaves a compelling tale of a fraught family each with their own peccadilloes. Marriage Story clearly aims to be even more dramatically incisive, toning down even the incidental comedy afforded by Meyerowitz, and earning both Johansson and Driver critical acclaim on the festival circuit and during its limited theatrical tour.
It's Johansson and Driver that, deservingly, will get all the awards come the New Year
Charlie is a successful NYC theatre director and his wife Nicole is the star of their latest production. They have a young boy together. They are also separating, and whilst they both intend this to be amicable, Nicole's move to LA to live with her mother and subsequent hiring of an aggressive lawyer and childhood friend to assert her claim, and Charlie's reluctance to accept that the move to LA will be anything more than temporary, and further difficulties finding his own suitable legal representation, obfuscate any initial intentions, adding a degree of animosity into the already messy situation and putting their young boy in the middle of it all.
Somewhat misleadingly titled, as perhaps Divorce Story would be more appropriate, and slightly less pessimistic towards all marriages, Noah Baumbach's tale is unsurprisingly informed by plenty of personal experience - both from his own divorce and from the divorce of his parents - giving it an interesting dimension as he clearly, and effectively, manages to both look at the relationship breakdown through relatively mature and honest eyes (this isn't Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston in the absolutely horrifically unpleasant The Break-Up, for example) as well as the impact it has on a young child who is arguably the real victim in the middle of it all.
Baumbach takes his sources of personal knowledge and infuses what is essentially a modern day reworking of Kramer vs. Kramer with honesty, occasional wit, and plenty of (bitter-)sweetness - clearly highlighting the oft-overlooked tics that remind the two parties that they were once truly, madly and deeply in love with one another. Undeniably tragic, resoundingly melancholic, there's still some sweetness to be found, even if it's often of the bittersweet variety, as no matter what your respective lawyers bully you into, and no matter how your anger and in-the-moment rage makes you behave, the love that simply can't just disappear and die overnight, still bubbles through.
Baumbach takes his sources of personal knowledge and infuses what is essentially a modern day reworking of Kramer vs. Kramer with honesty, occasional wit, and plenty of (bitter-)sweetness
Johansson and Driver are superb - the latter showing that he's clearly going to have legs long after Star Wars, with a particularly rich and nuanced performance as the frustrated husband (his scene with lawyer Alan Alda, where he breaks down when realises that he may not be able to be much of a father presence for his son when they are on different coasts, is absolutely heartbreaking) - whilst the supporting cast provide perhaps more of the eccentric additions you often expect in a Baumbach film (Ray Liotta gets a lovely, sleazy, cameo; Alda is hilariously useless but strangely honest; and Laura Dern is just as unpleasantly fake as she was in Big Little Lies - which appears to be exactly what they were going for here). Still, it's Johansson and Driver that, deservingly, will get all the awards come the New Year.
Marriage Story isn't a pleasant watch in any sense of the word but, much like Meyerowitz Stories, even the unpleasant moments which highlight deep personal flaws, resentment and perhaps even trauma intrinsic to families, are laced with a sense of individuals who love one another - something which is often eschewed in colder, more conventionally dramatic pieces which investigate divorce, where perhaps too much time is spent just watching people be horrible to one another. You'll have to pick the right time to watch it, but it's a worthy endeavour and comes recommended.
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