REVIEW: MARRIAGE STORY (2019)
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but divorce is a tricky subject to write about. My parents separated last year and the cavalcade of emotions our family has experienced since have been many and varied, to say the least. I guess anyone's response to a conscious uncoupling (as they say in LA) is dependent on the nature of the breakup. Without straying too far from the sanctum of family privacy, ours was a tad on the ugly side. It could have been a hell of a lot worse, but it wasn't nice all the same.
One thing that thankfully did not happen was a court procedural. This is in direct opposition to Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, which is as much a damning critique of divorce lawyers as it is a tale of two young lovers going their separate ways. What begins as an amicable parting of the ways quickly becomes a mud slinging contest fuelled by Laura Dern and Ray Liotta's shameless opportunists.
The similarities with Kramer vs. Kramer are clear, but Marriage Story is a more balanced affair than Robert Benton's Oscar winner. It begins with both of the central characters, played brilliantly by indie darlings Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, recounting the things about their spouse which caused them to fall in love. Expository it may be, but the opening works brilliantly as a narrative device and gives a compelling insight into the psyche of the two characters.
Charlie and Nicole's reasons for separating are complex and at times difficult to understand. They seem so well suited, but as Baumbach's screenplay gestates it becomes clear that their life goals are directly opposed. This leads to some interesting subtext - for example, Charlie is a staunch New Yorker who is almost repulsed by the idea of living in LA. But Nicole, having been born and raised there, has long yearned for a return home and sees her career reap the dividends when she does. There also some depictions of parenting choices which will doubtlessly cause debate among viewers, making Marriage Story a more multi-faceted affair than its title would have you believe.
It's a towering triumph for Baumbach, a director who has shown tantalising glimpses of genius for some time. His intense and, more importantly, realistic screenplay really gets under the skin of its topic, giving a fair airing to both characters. It is as easy to sympathise with Johansson as it is Driver, which is a major success given the propensity of this type of film to be one-dimensional and (in some instances) prejudiced.
As someone who has experienced divorce first hand, I found Marriage Story to be an incredibly moving and deeply spiritual affair.