There is a scene like two-thirds into Marriage Story that is so real, so raw and so powerfully enacted that it feels like you are saying those lines or those lines are being said to you, depending on which end of the marriage curve you are currently hanging on to.
It’s the only time in the film when the husband and the wife let their guards down and show their ugly insides to each other. “Every day I wake up and hope you’re dead,” he signs off and then breaks down. She takes the couple of steps left between them to calm him down.
Marriage Story is like a lost Woody Allen film. Ingmar Bergman would have been so happy if someone called Marriage Story the 2019 version of Scenes from a Marriage. No wonder there is a magazine piece framed on the wall with the headline “Scenes from a Marriage” reminiscing a time when Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) were actually happy.
That was when they did theatre together in New York, he as a director and she as the leading lady. Then Henry (Azhy Robertson) was born and it became about him. And then it became about going back to Los Angeles where her family is. Somewhere in between he slept with one of his theatre colleagues. And while they agreed on not getting lawyers involved, they were soon sitting in court discussing Henry’s custody.
Besides Baumbach’s writing, the two performances make the film. Johansson has the more showy performance and it’s deeply felt every time she breaks into tears but it is Driver who lets you in more.
Writer-director Noah Baumbach, who’s made a habit now of crafting these terrific relationship dramas – from The Squid and the Whale to The Meyerowitz Stories – is not interested in anything other than what the couple goes through when the decision to separate has been made. The bitter memories are as fleeting as the sweet ones and there is the constant lure of giving the relationship one last chance.
The film ends on such a beautiful note letting in that tiny ray of hope. Charlie reads out to Henry an old note Nicole had written when they were undergoing couples’ therapy – “And I’ll never stop loving him, even though it doesn’t make sense anymore.” This bit of information is no spoiler because Marriage Story is not about what eventually happens to this couple but more about the remnants of love and hate that keeps surfacing in a marriage, whether it’s soaring or sinking.
Besides Baumbach’s writing, the two performances make the film. Johansson has the more showy performance and it’s deeply felt every time she breaks into tears but it is Driver who lets you in more. Not a muscle twitches on his face but maybe it’s his eyes and the change of pacing of his speech that you can actually see inside his head. See how his Charlie is completely disintegrating inside.
There is a certain old movie charm to Baumbach’s movies and Marriage Story is no exception, the classical storytelling further accentuated by Randy Newman’s moving score. There are more than a couple of long uncut tracking shots that are beautifully choreographed. The narrative has a certain unhurried quality to it but never does the pacing of the film ever feel laboured or slow.
Yes, The Irishman has been made by the master and stars all the acting legends but you may have been struggling to see it through. Right? Take a break and immerse yourself in Marriage Story. It’s going to knock – and punch – at places inside you that you didn’t know existed.
Marriage Story is Now Streaming on Netflix