Marriage Story is the newest Oscar contender from streaming platform Netflix as they venture out into making good films for once. As I mentioned when reviewing The Irishman, Netflix movies usually suck, that was until Roma was released by Netflix last year and took home a slew of awards including best director at The Academy Awards. This year Netflix is stepping up their game with about three to four quality films in hopes to make a big impact at the Oscars this February and if the Golden Globe noms are any indication, Netflix may walk away with the most nominations than any other studio. I try my best to not use hyperboles in my reviews as I try not to over hype a film or base my thoughts off of a quick emotion, but I have had some time to sit with this film and I can confidently say that Marriage Story is by far the best film I have seen so far this year, and is easily one of the best movies this decade. Marriage Story is both equal parts hilarious and heart-breaking, a beautifully raw depiction of a divorce and a family trying to stay together.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson have never been better. These are two powerhouse performances elevated by a sharp and witty script. Typically, in a film revolving around a divorce there is usually a “bad guy” out of the two. Usually, someone is clearly in the right and we root for them to win, whether it be a custody battle or ownership of a company, something along those lines. Marriage Story doesn’t pick sides. We spend an equal amount of time with both Driver and Johansson and are presented with two great characters. No one is the bad guy, they are both good people who just don’t see eye to eye. No one is fully in the wrong, and clearly, these two still care for each other they just don’t want to be together. What complicates things for them is their young son they have together. They both want what’s best for him and because of that, they need to still be a family and work together, just no longer be married to each other. What further complicates things is when one of them goes to seek legal advice and now lawyers are involved which leads to them saying things about each other that they really don’t mean, and how the legality of a divorce can drive people further away. Divorce is a messy, unfiltered, grueling process, but director/writer Noah Baumbach finds the humour in simple everyday quirks and the heart for two people who once were in love.
Scarlett Johansson has never blown me away. I’ve never been the biggest fan of hers. I like her in the Marvel movies and her other roles I think she does a good enough job that she never detracts from the film, but never stands out in a good way. Marriage Story is changing my mind on that opinion. The best thing I can say about all the performances in this film is they feel real and Johansson is gut-wrenchingly honest and raw in the role of Nicole. For me, Adam Driver broke my heart. The amount of humanity Driver brings to the role of Charlie instantly made me latch on to him from the first moment we meet him on screen. The emotional weight he carries and the burden of this divorce weigh on him like it would any human being going through one of the worst experiences of their lives. The scene of the movie, and if you’ve seen Marriage Story you know what I’m talking about, hit me like a ton of bricks. The realistic and violent dialogue played brilliantly by both performers ripped my heart out.
Divorce is a messy process that can break even the strongest of people. Watching Adam Driver have to deal with the heavy financial side of things while trying to still be a father and walk out of this divorce with some sort of win for himself was painful at times. I hated knowing that his only way to get through this process was to only dig himself deeper into it and get a lawyer. And the same goes for Scarlett Johansson, I understand her motives and the choices she makes. That’s what makes Marriage Story so compelling, you want both of these people to work it out and come to some sort of agreement that they both walk away with some sort of relief. Marriage Story depicts how the court system and legal procedures of divorce can make things even worse. Now a middle man is introduced, and things are said about each other that neither one means. Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda play the lawyers and just like our lead performers, realistic characters who feel like the type of people who deal with divorce law. All three are uniquely different. Laura Dern’s character is clearly good at what she does and will do everything she can for her client. I genuinely got the impression she really cared for Scarlett Johansson and her situation and just wanted to help. Alan Alda plays one of the lawyers that Adam Driver goes to seek legal advice. He cared about Driver’s character, but had no drive and seemed to play nice to get the whole deal over with and make it as easy and painless as possible for Adam Driver. And then there’s Ray Liotta’s lawyer who doesn’t seem to care too much about his client but is a dirty player who plays to win. All three characters just show how complicated things can be for these characters and once they start this process, they just have to ride the course out.
Marriage Story is one of the most mature, honest films I have ever seen. I felt like I was able to step into the lives of two strangers during one of the worse periods of their lives and walked out of it feeling like I’ve known these two my whole life. I’ve never seen a Noah Baumbach film before and I need to fix that. His brutally real and raw script based on his own real-life divorce, paired with the ironic humour that life just loves to sprinkle in during our worst moments Baumbach so expertly knows how to find, made for one of the most enjoyable and heart-filled movies I have seen in years. You will find parts of yourself in this film whether you’ve gone through a divorce yourself or have never been married, there is something for you to grasp onto in Marriage Story.