I don’t know what it’s like to go through the painful trial of divorce. I wouldn’t know the first thing about the proceedings, the feelings and emotions associated and especially if you happen to also be fighting for custody of your child. I can imagine it’s tough. But watching Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver absolutely let it all out and bellow at one another in writer-director Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story truly made me feel like I was involved and experiencing my own lovers quarrel, and a very uncomfortable one at that.
Our story begins with New York theatre couple Charlie (Adam Driver) the theatre director, and Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) a former teen film actress who is currently starring in Charlie’s upcoming play he is producing. The both of them are describing all the wonderful qualities and things they adore and appreciate about one another and also how well one another look after their 8 year-old son Henry (Azhy Robertson), while the film portrays each and every one of these qualities on screen through a montage. The film then cuts to the two of them sitting in a room together, having written these qualities down on paper, revealed to be with a counsellor and struggling to express all these feelings and respective monologues that was just spoken to us through to one another. It’s a sad situation as it shows the painful reality of what was once pure love and admiration for one another, now seemingly has come to a dead halt can happen to the happiest of couples. Or so we think.
While initially not wanting to go through the ugly process of finding lawyers and going to court, Nicole has been offered the role in a television pilot in Los Angeles and has decided she wants to permanently move there close to her family, ultimately deciding this is where she wants to live and raise Henry. Charlie however wants to stay in New York where he is focuses on his play, which is currently on its way to Broadway, preferring Henry to stay right where he is with him. And so, court begins.
The most obvious point to make here is that all cast members here give an absolutely stellar performance, with Johansson, Driver, Robertson and in particular lawyer Nora Fanshaw (played by the absolutely captivating Laura Dern) being the standout performance. Dern is just so great to watch on-screen and always makes you smile, no matter what material, good or bad, she’s given. Johansson shines where she lengthily describes to Nora her feelings and how she feels the marriage was never healthy and why it just isn’t for her, all while wiping away tears, with a puffy red face from already crying her heart out previously, is heartbreaking and feels so real. It truly showcases what talent Johansson has as an actress and I hope for this scene alone, she wins the Best Actress for the upcoming 92nd Academy Awards.
The infamous argument scene between Charlie and Nicole where it’s a culmination of repressed thoughts and feelings finally coming to light shows the truly ugly and scariest part of a married couple expressing their hatred and disdain for each other. Real props to Johannson and Driver for making something as horrible as yelling and screaming at one another feel so realistic and raw. I truly felt I was there and having my own marital problems with a significant other. I must give praise to Noah Baumbach for writing something not only sad and touching but also still manages to convey moments of love and even humour occasionally thrown into the mix.
Usually with films involving divorce or any kind of separation there seems to be a villain or at least someone portrayed as the ‘evil’ one in these stories. To be honest I found neither to be the villain nor the ‘better person’ in this whole scenario. Nicole may have accused Charlie of being a villain in their rambunctious argument but in the end, Marriage Story didn’t really have a villain. It’s simply an old tale of two people who just realised they aren’t in love anymore, or who never really were in love from the start. It’s a story about a married couple going through the rounds, nothing more, nothing less.
Marriage Story is now available to stream on Netflix.