‘Marriage Story’ is a raw and vulnerable portrait of relationships
Anyone who is married, was once married or wants to be married, may see signs of themselves in Noah Baumbach’s appropriately-titled film, “Marriage Story,” a devastating drama that played this fall as the Centerpiece of the New York Film Festival. The film is now playing in select theaters before premiering on Netflix on Dec. 6.
Marriage, after all, is a story, with beginnings filled with promise, chapters that can challenge, and resolutions that brim with compromise. Or not. Without hesitation or apology, moviemaker Baumbach reveals the complex layers such an intense relationship can create, from the joys of discovery to the hurt that revelations can generate. Working with a superlative cast, and a screenplay that easily shifts from silly to sad, Baumbach reminds us how, when it comes to sharing why people fail to connect, he remains one of our most reliable storytellers.
At the start, we wonder what all the fuss could be about. The ever-so-married Nicole and Charlie sing praises for each other, he about the ways she balances work and family, she about how he thrives in the roles of father, husband and theatrical director. But pleasantries quickly fade as realities in the relationship begin to surface. Individually, and together, Nicole and Charlie retrace old times, and rewrite others, as they assess the milestones they have shared from when they first met to when they married to when they began to grow apart. Each seems much too capable of storing those events in vast compartments of disappointment, as if using memories of the past to explain present realities. And the closer Nicole and Charlie look at each other, the farther they seem to stray from the feelings they once shared.
While Baumbach has explored such shades of love before on film, most notably in “Frances Ha” and “The Squid and the Whale,” he’s too savvy and creative a filmmaker to repeat past approaches. “Marriage Story” works because it feels so fresh, seems so raw, plays with such vulnerability, as if we share moments between people that should be kept private. Rarely has this chance to eavesdrop on film felt so fulfilling as Baumbach breaks down walls to let us inside worlds filled with love and hate. Just as the characters on screen, we forget, as the film progresses, how Nicole and Charlie must have once loved each other before bitterness took hold and resentment set up housekeeping.
The actors thrill. Adam Driver, an Oscar nominee last year for “BlacKkKlansman,” personalizes Charlie’s grief so clearly, with such precision, that we feel his pain through every moment. While the film may tilt to costar Scarlett Johansson in its early scenes, Baumbach abruptly shifts the attention to Driver as the characters prolong their proceedings. Driver bares his soul as Charlie tries to protect his integrity in an emotional climax so spontaneous and immediate that we feel we should excuse ourselves. While Johansson is equally disturbing in her portrayal, this is Driver’s moment to shine.
At a time when many movies seem to try to be so big, and fill the screen with every possible visual, “Marriage Story” reminds us that, when a movie tells the story from the inside, a look at the dynamics between people can create all the fireworks any movie needs.
Film Nutritional Value: Marriage Story
Content: High. This look at the changes in a marriage offers a thoughtful, at times painful, exploration of how people can hurt each other.
Entertainment: High. Thanks to the superlative cast, and an insightful script, the film has quite a bit to say about what it takes to handle change in a relationship.
Message: High. While the film has serious issues to explore, the delicacy of writer/director Noah Baumbach enables his view to clearly resonate.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to introduce older children to issues that can occur in families is a welcome visit to the movies.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older children, talk about the realities of making families work.
“Marriage Story” is rated R for “language throughout and sexual references.” The movie runs 2 hours, 16 minutes.