Marriage story follows Charlie and Nicole as they go through a divorce while raising their son and how that leads to several bottled-up emotions resurfacing. They learn more about one another, how their marriage meant different things to each other and remind us why communication is so important.
I don’t have a lot of experience with movies where the subject matter is heavily focused on a relationship falling apart. I do love 500 days of Summer, La La Land and Eyes Wide Shut so it’s not that I am unfamiliar with movies about troubled relationships. And often, movies that seem about divorce like A Separation, Mrs. Doubtfire and Crazy, Stupid, Love end up being about a lot more and just have the divorce as a backdrop. But this one is dealing heavily with the emotions both parties go through and what their sides of the story are. And for what it is, I think the movie is near perfect.
A crucial part of the story the movie gets absolutely right is that you never feel one party is right. They both have their reasons for why their marriage fell apart and you can empathize with both of them. I found myself constantly switching back and forth with who I sided with whenever the narrator switched. We almost get to experience the split from the viewpoint of the characters and it makes for some amazing conflict between the characters. And this is definitely my favorite part of the movie.
The performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannsson are probably the best they’ve given in their careers. They strike just the right balance between being impactful and grounded. And what’s even more impressive is that some scenes have these characters frequently losing and gaining their emotional composure. This often results in a single scene with a variety of emotions going back and forth, often in a single take. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if these two leads won Best Actors at the Academy Awards this year. What struck me most personally was that I had forgotten I was watching actors that play popular characters like Black Widow and Kylo Ren. The supporting cast has the likes of Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda all of whom give amazing performances as well.
And finally, this is a very well-directed film and is even better written. The narrative jumps back and forth between the perspectives of the two main characters including great camera close-ups which make it a point to emphasize the emotions being felt. The characters are well-realized to the point of you almost knowing them in reality by the time the credits roll. The music, however, isn’t very profound and is almost subdued but maybe that can be attributed to how grounded the film is. That’s not a complaint really.
My only problem with the movie, personally, is that it plays it very safe. I can’t attest to what a movie with divorce as the subject matter could have done more. But in the year where I got to watch movies like Joker, Parasite, The Lighthouse and Once upon a time in Hollywood which are in many ways pushing the genres of traditional cinema and/or giving us something completely fresh, I can’t help but feel this movie was very much within a template. It’s good for what it is but what it is, is not nearly exciting as some of the other things I’ve seen this year. And that’s not a bad thing but it did personally leave me with a little more to be desired.