Writer/Director Noah Baumbach returns to London Film Festival (following his 2017 run with The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)) with a heart-breaking film about love, family and growth. Marriage Story follows the relationship between Charlie and Nicole, as they try to navigate their separation and inevitable but reluctant divorce while maintaining a united front in front of their son Henry. Both aim for a civil and amicable split, but when they are encouraged to place blame things spiral out of control.
What could have easily been a biased picture that favors one side over the other, Marriage Story constantly holds a very delicate balance. It explores the difficulties of going through a divorce without vilifying any of the parties involved. Even the cut-throat lawyers (played by the extraordinary Laura Dern and the devilish Ray Liotta) aren’t portrayed as purely evil, they just do their jobs to the best of their abilities – and that sometimes means digging up a spouse’s alcohol consumption or questioning their parenting abilities.
It is difficult to watch Charlie and Nicole’s marriage slowly fall apart, because they clearly still care about each other deeply. They probably always will, despite all the pain they have (possibly involuntarily) caused each other and the hardships they have gone through. It’s an honest portrayal of a relationship changing and developing over time, and of people growing apart. The film also highlights that sometimes there isn’t one big, explosive occurrence in a marriage that causes a separation but that a split, amicable or not, is often the result of growing frustrations and miscommunication.
Adam Driver is a revelation, whether he cries, yells, sings or loves. This is his film, and his film alone – he is a shoo-in for a Best Actor nomination this season. And while Driver’s superb performance steals the show, Johansson holds her own, especially in the scenes they share. Their dynamic is fascinating to watch. The direction by Baumbach adds to the intimacy of the story, with a number of well-chosen extreme close-ups in key moments that define Nicole and Charlie relationship.
However, with just under two and a half hours the film would benefit from a shortened first half of the film, which plays out a bit slowly. The third act, on the other hand, is a masterpiece that shall not be touched. Marriage Story is indeed a story about marriage, much more so than a story about divorce. And it is absolutely heartbreaking.
Marriage Story will be available on Netflix from December 6.
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