It’s the small moments during Director Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” that make up this subtle, heartbreaking film whose narrative reflects the intricacies of divorce.
As a 21-year-old college student, I haven’t personally experienced divorce. But what I can say is that this film displays how a relationship can change over time and affect each person involved differently.
Adam Driver plays an up-and-coming avant-garde New York theater director, Charlie Barber, whose star actress is his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). After receiving an offer for a television show shooting in Los Angeles, California, where her family resides, Nicole heads to the West Coast with their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), and finds this time period the best to make the break.
The title of the film itself focuses on the union of two people, rather than their separation. Baumbach allows the scenes to move forward at a leisurely and natural pace that cleverly replicates that of a stage play, giving us the ability to feel how these moments play out in real time.
While Charlie and Nicole are going through the tedious process of splitting up, which becomes much too bureaucratic, they are still deeply connected in a multitude of ways as they share a relationship and other aspects of life with each other. That’s what makes this film so special. I loved sitting through two hours of watching this couple figure out their entangled situation, while intermittently seeing snippets of their past bring more clarity to their marriage story.
To be clear, this film isn’t outwardly depressing, but moments like Nicole cutting Charlie’s hair, Nicole and Charlie reading Henry’s bedtime story and a Halloween night that doesn’t go as planned make for such a delicate sadness that humanizes these people and their situation through spouts of yelling and arguing. Baumbach pulls us deep into the reality of the situation perhaps from a side we don’t often see in a typical Hollywood divorce story.
Between the layers of anger and sadness are moments of pure, lighthearted comedy. Nicole’s divorce lawyer, Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), and Charlie’s lawyer Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), couldn’t be more opposite as Nora’s whip smart comebacks and humor always beats Bert’s well-meaning inadequacy. Nicole’s ecstatic family brings so much energy to the story and honesty, I get why she wants to move back to Los Angeles with them. Her sister Cassie (Merritt Wever) is hilariously panicked when given the simple task of handing Charlie the divorce papers, and her mother Sandra (Julie Hagerty) doesn’t exactly help the situation as she happily greets Charlie when he arrives in LA, not realizing that she has to separate from him too and can’t be his friend anymore.
“Marriage Story” takes you on an emotional rollercoaster through all of the fights, the laughs and no matter how ugly each person had the ability of becoming, the film doesn’t force you to choose a side nor do you feel you have to.
So if you’re interested, “Marriage Story” is in select theatres now and is coming to Netflix Dec. 6, just in time to have a good cry before finals week.