There have been countless cinematic representations of crumbling marriages over the years, yet it is rare that you find one that is as impactful as Noah Baumbach’s MARRIAGE STORY. Nominated for six Academy Awards (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Score) the emotionally charged drama rises above the typical tropes and melodramas associated with depictions of divorce.

MARRIAGE STORY begins with narration from Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver.) They delve into delightful detail as to what made them fall in love with one another, highlighting the quirks and eccentricities that made them unique. It is touching, heartfelt, and relatable. Each audience member will draw immediate parallels between themselves and the couple, thereby forging a bond with each character in a matter of minutes. Though we know that the remaining run time will be dedicated to the dissolution of their union, for that moment, you can’t imagine how anything could possibly go wrong.

Moments later, however, we learn that all is not right in their world. Charlie’s play is about to make its transition to Broadway, while Nicole will be starring in a television pilot in California. Their marriage is ending, and yet, they are attempting to remain civil. Things do not seem to be acrimonious in the beginning, and they agree to work things out on their own, without the use of lawyers. The main source of contention is that Charlie insists that they are a New York family, and does not want to be away from their young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson.)

With each week that passes, the situation grows increasingly complicated. Despite their initial agreement, Nicole enlists the help of powerful divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern). In rebuttal, Charlie consults with a savage attorney named Jay Moratta (Ray Liotta) who bluntly lays out how difficult and ruthless the entire process is about to become. Hesitant to take the proceedings down such a tumultuous (and bank-busting) path, Charlie hires the wise and sympathetic Bert Spitz (Alan Alda). Together, the duo attempt to work with Nicole and Nora to reach an amicable resolution. As the proceedings progress, however, this becomes ever more unlikely.

The performances by every single member of the MARRIAGE STORY cast is impeccable, and I’m still dumbfounded how they did not earn a SAG nomination for Best Ensemble. The connection between Driver and Johansson is remarkably genuine, which was imperative for the success of the film. The love and loathing between the two is a searing tightrope walk, and by the time we reach the inevitable climax in which emotions come pouring out, the resulting scene is as powerful as any dramatic sequence seen on screen this year. They have crafted characters that are conversely lovable and deplorable. Exuding raw emotion that feels so wholly genuine that you forget you are watching two of the most prolific performers working in Hollywood today (Johansson is nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for her turn in JOJO RABBIT, and Driver just finished his stint as Kylo Ren in RISE OF SKYWALKER). -They have deftly molded characters that aren’t mere one-dimensional caricatures of a disheartened man and wife, but real people with palpable hopes, dreams, and fears.

Despite its heavy themes and emotionally charged moments, Baumbach’s script also delivers a number of unexpected laughs, brevity, and insight. There is a scene in which Charlie has an independent evaluator come to his apartment to watch how he functions as a father. Played to perfection by the scene-stealing Mary Hollis Inboden, it is simultaneously hilarious, heartbreaking, and cringingly awkward. It’s moments like these that draw the viewer in further, crafting a film that is oddly lovely despite its severity. Much like the filmmaker’s 2005 dramedy THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, it obliterates the typical limitations of movies such as these, and presents a memorable exploration of a family teetering precariously between redemption and disaster.

MARRIAGE STORY GRADE: A

RATED: R

RUN TIME: 2h 17min

GENRE: Drama, Comedy

STARRING: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Alan Alda, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Azhy Robertson

DIRECTORS: Noah Baumbach

WRITERS: Noah Baumbach

Brian Miller
Film Critic
Based out of Central New York, Brian Miller is a film critic who works in television, radio, and print. Providing passionate and energetic takes on every movie he sees, he looks for the best in a movie, not the worst.