Noah Baumbach’s "Marriage Story" follows a couple through their exhausting, never-ending separation that finally pushes them to confront the painful journey that is divorce.
With shorter attention spans and busier schedules, Netflix films have thus far catered to our need for instant gratification and simple escapism through fast paced scenes, shallow dialogue and reused storylines. Marriage Story, however, completely reverts this. This is undoubtedly due to writer, director Noah Baumbach stripping away ego, intellectualism and complicated plots to simply tell a story, a tragic, beautiful story. This is a great sign for British cinema too with David Heyman, the British gentleman himself, having produced the film.
"Marriage story" is full of intense, all-consuming scenes that will most definitely have you reaching for another pack of tissues. But within these dramatic moments, Baumbach sculpts the most intimate, tender and crucially human scenes to dance on a screen.
The film gives itself the permission to breathe. The silences tell the story of two humans who do everything that they can to hurt each other despite their undying love, whether that be platonic or romantic. Adam Driver consistently and intensely delivers Baumbach’s hauntingly silent scenes - the film describes Divorce as “death without a body” and one particularly poignant moment encapsulates this emptiness. Driver lies on the kitchen floor, bare, broken, stripped of everything, just manifesting in his pain. It’s a devastatingly lonely frame. It’s also a rare cinematically self-aware moment where you realise you’re alone, and that you always have been, but there is no one distracting you from yourself anymore. You have to become comfortable with it just being you, and Baumbach gives us this license to feel that it is okay. In a time when we are in such a rush to be distracted from any solitary human moment, "Marriage Story" forces us to feel all of them, wholly, painfully - beautifully.
With the film centring on an actress and theatre director comes this touching sense of mimesis between the performances they put on for their theatre company within the film and the performance we watch as an audience. This layering makes us question our own performative natures and voices, and with such a self-aware film comes a natural philosophical yearning to understand our human condition. A notably heart-breaking performance between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) epitomises this need to understand our nature. Charlie and Nicole rip each other apart, every flaw, every vulnerability is exposed in their words, they shout things you would never dream of saying to someone you love, and they eventually question how it all came to this, leading to a harrowing breakdown and the most touching performance of Adam Driver’s career. Johansson plays against Driver’s intense performance with a softer yet more bitter tone, unable to understand how Charlie could go from loving her to neglecting her presence, something so many of us have had to endure. This constant questioning of how someone can hurt you so badly is potent throughout the films development. However, we see Nicole’s emotional growth and awareness much quicker than Charlie's, and thus we are watching two different timelines, journeys, if you will, play out in front of us. Yet, Baumbach never takes sides, the film instantly feels lived in, crafting a deep connection between the audience and Baumbach’s characters. The camera judges no-one and rather allows us to pick and choose the feelings we relate to, crafting the story into our own experiences.
Rest assured, it’s not all pain and suffering; the film is filled with witty one-liners and a careful balance between tragic and comedic scenes. From Charlie being best friends with Nicole’s mother, much to her obvious discontent, to her sister then putting on a hilariously dramatic performance due to her inability to simply give Charlie divorce papers, Baumbach balances a laugh out loud nervous comedy with a cry out loud tragedy.
Oh, and who knew Adam Driver could sing so powerfully? Sure, we hear some nifty songs in "Girls" and his hilarious baritone in "Inside Llewyn Davis", and even his sweet Italian song in "Hungry Hearts", but hello to Adam Driver singing a musical ballad? If you haven’t cried since you were a kid you better get your box(es) of tissues ready. And once you hear the lyrics, the running theme of “living” and “feeling” will make sense, I promise.
Although Baumbach explored the tribulations (albeit in a more humorous manner) divorce poses on kids in previous films such as "The Squid and the Whale", he gives a potent voice to the child of "Marriage Story". Max asks his dad, Charlie, why he doesn’t want to spend time with him anymore. In this vulnerable moment we are reminded that as a child all you see is your parents absence, thinking you are not loved by them anymore, when in reality the situation is far more complex. It is these simple scenes that induce the greatest pathos.
Ultimately, "Marriage Story" poetically displays the fragility of human emotion, with a tender reminder that we are all the same. Baumbach is the voice of our generation, a generation that is so lost and consumed in social performances. Due to the skilful writing and artful directing to make sure the audience feel every emotion, by the end of the film a cathartic energy consumes you. The delicate, childlike, nostalgic score by Randy Newman shapes this therapeutic cinema experience, as we are reminded of our younger, more hopeful selves, and as the film draws to a close, we are prompted to keep this self with us, to nurture these layers of hurt feelings and slowly break down the walls we’ve built. This is not to say the ending is happy nor sad, but that it is human. Baumbach gently reminds us that throughout all the pain and joy, everything will be okay.
Watch us catch up with the cast and crew of Marriage Story on the red carpet of The 63rd London Film Festival below:
Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor