Marriage Story is a 2019 film distributed by Netflix and directed by comedy-drama master Noah Baumbach. It follows the excruciating unraveling of marriage between stage-director Charlie, played by Adam Driver, and his co-star Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson.
Now, Marriage Story is not exactly a plot-heavy movie, and it’s a pretty familiar story. Movie-goers have been watching similar films for decades. For example, I’d say this style of story was perfected in Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage. In a nutshell, the theme revolves around a perfect couple who have an epiphany, realizing they’re not so perfect, and they have not been truly happy for years. This leads the couple and their families down a chaotic path of self-destruction. Baumbach has nearly perfected this formula in Marriage Story.
The purpose of these particular movies is to show how hard the actors can try for an Oscar nomination. Although this movie is certainly Oscar worthy, Driver and Johansson are legitimately stunning. I would say Johansson gives the slightly better performance. She is incredibly sympathetic and relatable. Driver feels a little cold and robotic at times, and that’s probably why it was much easier for me to take Nicole’s side. And with that, watching Marriage Story makes you feel like a child trying to choose between parents. We see them separate for much of the movie, sometimes on opposite coasts, seeing them struggle as they take us on separate Halloween trips and rides to divorce lawyers. We see Charlie and Nicole fight over little and big things, all while in the background their lawyers elongate the case and make it a competition to ultimately make more money for themselves.
This story is told exceptionally well, and that’s thanks in no small part to Noah Baumbach’s exceptional directing and writing. He mostly favors static shots and minimal distracting cuts, putting all the focus on the actors’ ability. There are no flattering angles nor any damning ones, Baumbach simply puts as much reality as he can on the screen. And for a movie so unflinchingly real, it’s a mystery how Baumbach was able to include so many hilarious moments. This is no slogging melodrama, and it’s consistently captivating in both the lightest and dreariest parts of the story.
Being a Netflix Original, it’s one of the few 2020 Best Picture nominees that’s readily available to most people, and an amazing piece of filmmaking that everyone can, and should, watch.