LFF 2019: Marriage Story (2019) Film Review

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Marriage Story is the latest film by Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach and is his arguably most accessible feature to date. The film stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a couple going through a divorce between New York and Los Angeles.

Despite an initial quirky, harmonious view of each other, Marriage Story quickly shatters this idyllic marriage by establishing their detachment and friction, which stem from ignorance and stubbornness. He carefully crafts the script around the couple to allow subtleties to slowly break down their marriage. Baumbach also ensures a constant discomfort between Nicole and Charlie threatens their already fragile relationship, to the extent that it is hard to understand why they are together in the first place.

In Marriage Story, Johannson delivers her best performance yet as Nicole, who strives to have her own identity away from Charlie. Johansson balances her character’s boldness with small heartfelt moments, showing that Nicole’s true emotions. A key scene sees her beautifully describing their first meeting to lawyer Nora (Laura Dern), as she is able to relay the poignancy she cannot share with her husband.

Seen as domineering and selfish, Charlie finds himself at a disadvantage in this battle. Thanks to Driver’s engaging performance, he is barely able to convey his frustration with Nicole’s increasing attachment to California – contradicting his affirmation of being a ‘New York family’. The fact that her new life in LA is aiding her case adds insult to injury, culminating in a tense, hate-filled argument that highlights both Driver and Johansson as actors.

Extra credit goes to Marriage Story‘s supporting cast, who offer an extra layer of friction between the couple. Dern and Ray Liotta provide great performances as the couple’s cutthroat lawyers while Alan Alda, Julie Hagarty and Merritt Wever offer light relief. Azhy Robertson is also a wonderful addition as the couple’s son Henry, who is blissfully unaware of his parents’ troubles.

In addition to the screenplay, Baumbach’s direction highlights the growing distance between the protagonists. By placing them at opposite ends of the country, he shows that they are unwilling to compromise on their separate lives. So despite their mutual hopes for a peaceful resolution, audiences see that this divorce isn’t going to go smoothly and it is heartbreaking to watch.

Marriage Story ultimately reminds audiences that marriage is a tale of two halves. Thanks to Driver and Johansson, this is a story that cannot be missed.

Director: Noah Baumbach
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta
Runtime: 136 minutes
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★★

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