Marriage Story: BRWC LFF Review.
Noah Baumbach’s exquisite tale of a marriage falling apart is a ruthless, moving and compassionate study of real people dealing with real problems, and arguably the strongest cinematic depiction of divorce since Kramer vs. Kramer.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as separated Charlie and Nicole, parents to Henry, trying to finalise their divorce despite living at opposite ends of the country. It’s a realistic depiction of how a divorce can push two people to extremes, however hard they try to avoid precisely that.
Charlie and Nicole say, quite truthfully, that they don’t want to get lawyers involved and hope to have the cleanest, healthiest break-up possible, but it doesn’t take too long for things to go the other way and, albeit reluctantly, the gloves come off. The pacing of this deterioration is so expertly judged that it’s nothing short of miraculous, ensuring that no action in the film feels forced; rather, the natural next step. This is far more difficult to get right than many might think, but Baumbach makes it look effortless, and it’s vital in telling the story of these characters without losing sight of them.
Charlie and Nicole are full-realized people; arguably, the most truly human characters in a drama such as this for quite some time. Baumbach sells us their history in the film’s opening minutes, while Driver and Johansson then sell the rest with a level of skill never seen before by either. Both are proven talents, but there can be no doubt that these are career-best performances by both of them, sharing a chemistry that is both natural and real.
The greatest strength in Baumbach’s story is the clear empathy he has for both his characters. Charlie and Nicole are both genuinely decent people who sadly do questionable things at times, but these actions always feel honest, with Baumbach never showing a preference to either.
Neither is the villain here. It’s simply an observational picture of a marriage breaking away, and it’s one that works wonderfully.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in a film essentially about a divorce, is the surprisingly optimistic feel it has to it. There’s no question that this is a very sad story, but it’s one that will make you laugh as often as it makes you cry. Baumbach’s message is simply that, while things may be tough at times, life will always go on.
Marriage Story has one of the sharpest, most moving screenplays of the year, telling a story that never feels anything but heartfelt and genuine. With excellent pacing, editing and direction, creative and meaningful mise en scène, and compassionate performances from two terrific actors, it’s hard to find problems here.
There is simply too much to appreciate in Marriage Story to list. It’s faultless, seemingly effortless storytelling and one of the year’s finest films.
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