Marriage Story is a flawlessly written and extraordinarily acted drama about two professional people getting divorced. After the first ten minutes, you understand the people and the marriage. Then, during the next two hours, you go through their divorce.
Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) gets a role in a TV show and wants to return to LA after living and working for ten years with her husband Charlie in New York. Her husband Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) developed into a famous Director during their marriage and is taking his play to Broadway. Charlie is happy in New York. Nicole’s request for a divorce blindsides Charlie.
Marriage Story is so well written, you don’t take sides in the divorce. Through remarkable acting, you can understand the characters, their motivations, and in Charlie’s case, the confusion.
They have a son, Henry (Azhy Robertson). Custody of Henry is the main argument in the divorce, but he is not the main sadness in the film. Any sadness you feel is toward the parents; the parents always protect and love the kid. Although, you may feel a little hate or maybe disgust toward the attorneys.
Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) represents Nicole. First, Alan Alda, as mellow Bert Spitz, and then Ray Liotta as rabid Jay Marotta represent Charlie.
Two memorable scenes define the emotions of Nicole and Charlie.
The best is Nicole meeting Nora. The scene is over ten minutes long. Nicole best describes why she wants a divorce; this scene justifies the divorce. At one point during the scene, the camera stays on Scarlett Johansson for over three minutes. During those three minutes, she goes from crying to recovery then back to crying, all while walking around the room. Also, the everyday look (like an average person) of Nicole during this scene juxtapositioned to the glamorous and luxurious look of Nora makes the scene even more striking.
Charlie’s ten-minute scene shows the emotional stages of divorce. Adam Driver perfectly shows denial, confusion, anger, and capitulation during this very intense scene with Nicole. His acting in this scene will get him to the award shows. I read an interview with the writer, director, and producer Noah Baumbach. He said it took two days to film this one scene, it was a little choppy.
Even the attorneys give up great acting; the courtroom fighting is fun. In fact, every scene with the Attorneys is worth seeing. Nicole’s mother Sandra (Julie Hagerty) and sister Cassie (Merritt Wever) round out the excellent cast; they provide one of the few humorous scenes in the film. There are no weak points in this film.
The only weak point may be the viewer. Two songs from Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company are used to represent Nicole and Charlie’s state of mind and emotion after the divorce. I was not familiar with these songs. The scenes still worked, but I could have enjoyed it more if I knew the songs, particularly the song, Being Alive. More of this in the “Biggest Spoilers: The Endings” below.
Overall, Marriage Story is a fascinating experience, it is a serious, flawlessly written drama, with extraordinary acting. The leads, the writer & director, and the story will all be nominated for several awards come 2020 award season. If you are engaged to someone, you both should watch this film.