Starring: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern
Director: Noah Baumbach
Running Time: 136 mins
Marriage Story is an American film about a married couple who find themselves being dragged deeper into despair as they navigate a complicated divorce.
Marriage Story is an exceptional piece of filmmaking. Harking back to a classic style of drama that we don’t see too often on the big screen nowadays, Noah Baumbach creates one of the most moving, emotionally tender, insightful, natural and simply heartbreaking dramas ever made, featuring two exceptional performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson that will grab you from the very first moment and never let you go.
As a film that’s undoubtedly set to win big at awards shows all around the world over the coming months, Marriage Story is a film that you’ll almost certainly have the chance to watch again and again, and so you should. However, as what is unashamedly a drama about a messy and saddening divorce, you might fear that this might be a little too much to handle.
After all, there are few things as heart-wrenching and emotionally exhausting as watching a happy relationship fall apart, and classics like the devastating Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? has proven just that. However, the beauty of Marriage Story is that, while it’s a deeply heartbreaking story, it isn’t a painful, exhausting watch, but rather one of the most heartfelt and tender depictions of a devastating tale that you can imagine.
Following the gradual deterioration of a couple’s divorce process from a civil separation to a bitter war, Marriage Story doesn’t hold back when it comes to some of the harsh realities of life, and particularly towards its final act, the film takes on a decidedly more intense character as tensions begin to boil over.
However, rather than seeing Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson at each other’s throats in typically theatrical fashion from beginning to end, director Noah Baumbach remembers the importance of showing the brighter side of affairs, giving Marriage Story a strikingly heartfelt, bright and even positive atmosphere throughout.
As a result, as heartbreaking as the film is at points, its assured, calm and often optimistic perspective is truly wonderful to see. For every moment of sadness, there’s a moment that reflects the happiness in both characters’ lives, and while things become increasingly difficult and strained as the weeks go on, Marriage Story shows that the struggles of divorce are perfectly natural, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel for all those involved, no matter how bad things may get.
But what’s more is that, through its use of more positive storytelling, the emotional impact of the breakup of the marriage is all the more heartbreaking. Watching a relationship already on the rocks fall off a cliff is heavy-going, but it doesn’t have that unbearable bittersweet feeling of a loss of happiness and fulfilment. In Marriage Story, as things become worse, you’re reminded more and more of the happy times in the past, and with a perfectly-judged musical score from Randy Newman that devastatingly hammers home that exact emotion, it’s difficult not to feel deeply, deeply affected at times.
And on top of that devastating juxtaposition of happy and sad, Noah Baumbach’s screenplay is an exceptional piece of work that not only furthers the film’s emotional resonance, but breaks barriers with its stunningly natural and honest dialogue.
Again, comparing to a very theatrical film in the shape of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, Marriage Story feels so genuine, so heartfelt and so real, thereby hitting home even harder in its saddest moments. As an almost entirely dialogue-based narrative, the film relies heavily on slick, genuine and meaningful lines to bring its main ideas home as effectively as possible.
And as the film builds from civil disagreement into bitter conflict, the dialogue remains as honest and natural as possible, never straying into melodramatic, theatrical territory, meaning that, as long as conversations, phone calls and arguments may play out, it’s impossible to take your eyes away from the screen.
And finally, that exceptional screenplay would be nothing without a collection of stunning performances across the board. Supporting turns from the likes of Laura Dern, Julie Hagerty and even Ray Liotta are outstanding throughout, but there’s no getting past Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, who not only put in the best performances of their respective careers, but also some of the very best of the decade.
Driver and Johansson’s effortlessly natural chemistry is more than enough to make the film a deeply heartbreaking watch from the start, but the extent to which they portray the earnest, genuine and hurt feelings of their respective characters while they try to keep a lid on things in their lives is incredible, and a vital component of what makes Marriage Story such a stunningly powerful and moving drama.
Overall, Marriage Story is undeniably one of the best dramas of recent years, and as it harks back to a bygone era for the genre, it might just stand as one of the very best of all time. Moving, heartfelt, devastating, funny, natural, intelligent and everything in between, Noah Baumbach brilliantly creates one of the most memorable and captivating dramas ever made, and with two exceptional lead performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, the film will have you fully engrossed and moved from beginning to end, which is why I’m giving Marriage Story an 8.8.