Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) is a successful, New York theatre director who is married to Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), who also stars in his plays. However, whilst they are both wedded to their work, the fabric of their union is coming apart. Unable to express their feelings to one another, Nicole takes their son to Los Angeles, but will their her marriage survive LA’s toxic divorce culture and the voices that are now gathering around them?…
With nothing left in the kitchen drawer, insults and lacerating comments are thrown around until one of them slumps to their knees...
Director Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’ is a comedy-drama that tries to fuse both the wry and tragic elements of divorce in an entertaining whole. Veering between parody and venal satire, it also features many scenes of real, emotional rawness, all of which are searingly conveyed by the excellent Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Framed around them, are the equally on-form Laura Dern and Ray Liotta, who dial up the blood lust as voracious divorce lawyers feasting on the carcass of their client’s romance. Bringing in a badly-needed shot of sobriety and pathos to the proceedings is Alan Alda as Charlie’s second defence attorney. However, whilst this later addition carries with it with much of the sanguine, weariness that the late Robin Williams brought to ‘Good Will Hunting‘, there is a much-foreshadowed roadblock up ahead.
Spitting out sparks and home truths in a brutal showdown in Charlie’s rented flat, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson go each other head to head. With nothing left in the kitchen drawer, insults and lacerating comments are thrown around until one of them slumps to their knees. Yet, whilst the acting here is of the very highest order, there is a clear rift that can be seen beyond the fireworks on display.
Continually lurching back later to an amicable, co-dependency that really questions why Charlie and Nicole are breaking up in the first place, a hollowness starts to splinter this film from the inside out. Outside of their lawyered-up confrontations, a lack of emotional consequence starts to undercut each bruising encounter. Increasingly blowing hot and cold on its central subject matter, ‘Marriage Story’ ultimately skirts around its topic with an ironically, comic defence.
In rendering both Charlie and Nicole as increasingly privileged in their broadway union gone sour, Noah Baumbach’s touch for dialogue ricochets into his own characters. Also, when much later he teases a really tragic and potentially brave finale, that too is squandered as the need for an upbeat ending is served.
Left kicking its heels about what it could have been, ‘Marriage Story’ becomes another attractive, yet valiant attempt to lightly graze its subject matter. So, when the question comes, will you take ‘Marriage Story’ as your definitive portrait of domestic strife? Or will you, mention the superior ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ as to why this movie, to your memory, should not be wed? It’s your choice.
Don’t get wrong. ‘Marriage Story’ is a very handsome and attractive fiction. Made all the finer by a much more expansive Scarlett Johansson that you’ve seen for a while, it wholeheartedly deserves your attention but not your lifelong commitment.