LFF REVIEW: “Sentimental and contemplative of long-term relationships” – ‘Marriage Story’ (2019)

Rating: 4 out of 4.

“Adam Driver is phenomenal, a presence on screen.”

Marriage Story (2019), directed by Noah Baumbach, is a tale of the break-up between small-time theatre director Charlie (Adam Driver), and his actress wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). The two wish to divorce amicably, but when Nicole takes their son to LA to live with her mother, complications arise and Charlie is left torn between his work in New York and fighting for his son in LA.

In a montage of the couple’s relationship, we learn of each parties traits through their memories of one another. Like flipping through a photo book, we see snippets of events in their lives from both Charlie and Nicole’s perspectives. As each describe the other’s habits, likes and dislikes, and quirks in their character, you truly begin to feel like you understand what makes the couple tick.

Visually there is a warmth to this film, shots are clean, and scenes are dressed in neutral colours. A calming backdrop to contrast the chaotic nature of Charlie and Nicole’s separation, and bland enough to let the stars of the show shine. The film has a very intelligent ‘arty’ New York vibe, but this is brought back down to earth by Driver and Johansson’s raw and emotive performances, so refrains from feeling pretentious.

Adam Driver is phenomenal, a presence on screen. Marriage Story gives him the opportunity to stretch his acting talents to the limits bringing life to his character through a spectrum of emotions. He plays Charlie both subdued and thoughtful, and impassioned and frustrated, showing the full extent of his character’s psychological journey. Johannson gives as good as she gets but Driver’s performance just hits harder. A highly-charged argument between the couple exemplifies his range, as he expels every terrible thought he’s ever had about his marriage, until overcome with emotion, he breaks-down and sobs convulsively at his ex-wife’s feet, turning to his source of pain to be one of comfort.

A light humour bubbles beneath the surface of the film, much of this provided by the warring divorce lawyers played by Laura Dern and Ray Liotta. Liotta’s character, Jay, has a cynical view of marriage and Dern’s, Nora Fanshaw, has such a blatant false empathy towards Nicole’s situation, which is played for laughs. The humour helps the narrative from feeling too heavy, and the moments of lightness between Charlie and Nicole show glimpses of the love their marriage shared.

Marriage Story is an intimate examination of a break-up, and all of the mixed emotions that go along with that. Johannson and Driver have a great rapport and their performances really bring life and soul to their characters. The film is sentimental and contemplative of long-term relationships, and giving your all to another person, but at a cost of losing yourself.