LFF 2019: Marriage Story – Review

Release date – 15th November 2019, Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 17 minutes, Director – Noah Baumbach

A stage director husband (Adam Driver) and actor wife (Scarlett Johansson) go through a divorce and legal battle over their future family set-up.

Back in 1979 Kramer Vs Kramer was first witnessed by audiences. In the four decades since it was first released it’s, unsurprisingly, become the film that many instantly refer to when the subject of divorce dramas is mentioned. So, when talking about a modern divorce drama, especially one such as Noah Baumbach’s latest, Marriage Story, it would be easy to easily start comparing the two. However, there are vast differences when it comes to the plot and focus of the two. While Kramer Vs Kramer focuses on the father-son relationship at the centre of the film, leaving the legal drama until late in the film, Marriage Story is very much consistently concerned with the legal nature of the divorce proceedings between Adam Driver’s stage-director Charlie and Scarlett Johansson’s actor, Nicole. Equally focusing on the pair.

The opening scene of the film, set to Randy Newman’s fantastic and sparingly used score (some of the best, most effective scenes, are done in complete silence) consists of Charlie’s voice-over telling the audience how much he loves Nicole; set to footage of the close bond between the two. However, it’s soon revealed that the couple aren’t as close as it might initially seem, the voice-over is actually Driver reading a letter as part of marriage counselling, the effects of which aren’t being felt and instead seem to be leading the couple closer to their eventual divorce proceedings. At one point Nicole, realising her new freedom, goes as far to say “I never really came alive myself, I was just his aliveness” – just one of the wonderful ways in which the dialogue shows true feelings put into words. As the couple split their separate ways, and Nicole moves away from New York to L.A. a silent battle between the pair erupts, mostly fought through the lawyers that they eventually hire, even hiring lawyers raises suspicions that the pair are discreetly attacking the other chances of spending more time with their child

Throughout Marraige Story Baumbach very much keeps his naturalistic style (seen put into effect in his previous feature The Meyerowitz Stories) which helps to push through the real sense of drama and emotion that the film tries to get across. The raw feelings of both Driver and Johansson’s characters are clearly displayed. The hard outer shells that they show severely contrasting with the emotional breakdowns they have in private, all while trying to put on a brave face for their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson – who seems to have been given the task of playing a child a couple of years younger than him).

Amongst all the drama that the film has to offer the natural feeling also allows for some much appreciated humour to be brought into play. In fact during some of the tensest scenes, or those dealing the most with legal matters, do some of the biggest laughs come, specifically from Laura Dern as Nicole’s lawyer Nora. One of the most bittersweet and emotional scenes of the film, showing Driver’s panicked dad trying to prove to a child welfare representative that he’s capable of providing his son with a good home-life, is also one with the most comedic potential. The entire film is a masterclass in naturalistic acting; and could very well lead Driver to a Leading Actor win, and a Leading Actress nomination for Johansson. The two stars give the definition of powerhouse performances from start to finish through monologues, musical numbers (Driver’s rendition of Stephen Sondheim’s Being Alive is worthy of rapturous applause in itself, being one of the most captivating and breathtaking moments of the entire film; taking the viewer into a realm of almost fantasy). At one point a whole (partially eaten) chicken is casually eaten with a knife and fork and it seems completely normal and serious.

Amongst all the power and pain that the film delivers it never lets go of its sense of hope, family and the simplistic plot. Forming a total gut punch in both natural comedy and drama, at times almost feeling like a highly cinematic play – which seems fitting considering the professions of the two lead characters. This impression given by the extended, yet far from dull, nature of some scenes and the considered nature of the fantastically presented courtroom drama elements. Everything simply combines to create a compelling, magnificently done and unique drama. Fresh for a modern audience yet still holding traditional themes, Marriage Story is very much a modern Kramer Vs Kramer, almost guaranteed to be a future classic, but equally very much in a different vein. It’s fantastically done in every aspect and despite its simplicity and natural style it commands to be seen on the big screen. A genuinely heartfelt hit that all should see.

Randy Newman’s spellbinding score is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the masterful nature of Marriage Story. Devastatingly emotional yet naturally funny, with two dominating powerhouse performances at the centre of it, it combines some of the best elements of cinema to create an overall phenomenal feature.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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