Marriage Story is directed by Noah Baumbach. The film stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, with supporting parts from Ray Liotta, Wallace Shawn, Laura Dern, Julie Hagerty, and Alan Alda. The film went into a limited theatrical release as of November 6, 2019, with the film to be released for Netflix streaming on December 6, 2016.
Nicole and Charlie Barber reside in New York City, where Charlie directs plays and Nicole stars in them. But the once idealistic lifestyle the couple enjoyed comes screeching to a halt when the two go to therapy, heading towards an impending divorce, made even more difficult due to the fact the couple has a young son. It isn’t long before they each find themselves under the representation of lawyers, as Nicole wishes to take full custody of their son, which would mean returning to her former home in California. Will the couple reconcile and agree to do what’s in the best interests of their son, or will the custody battle tear them apart further?
The latest in a line of films releasing in a limited theatrical capacity to head to Netflix a few weeks later, Marriage Story is an ambitious and emotional film with a top-notch cast and a relatable plot. While it’s too long and the emphasis of the movie isn’t always where it should be, there’s no denying it’s a solidly made movie.
The couple in the movie is portrayed by Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow from the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren from the newer Star Wars movies). I’ve seen these two pop up in many productions, but their performances here are revelations. Both characters have their own wants in life, but also care deeply about one another and their son, wanting only what’s best, even if their views here differ substantially. The two show off an amazing amount of range, from comedic lighthearted moments to those where they’re at each other’s throats. Yet it all feels authentic and believable, and no one is truly painted out to be a hero or a villain. Comparisons to Kramer Vs. Kramer will be inevitable, and while I wouldn't say Marriage Story is the classic of cinema that film is, it handles its characters and situations surprisingly well.
The supporting cast includes some surprisingly big names, including Alan Alda (MASH) as a humane lawyer who wants the best for his clients, Wallace Shawn (My Dinner With Andre, The Princess Bride) as one of Charlie’s fellow thespians, and Julie Hagerty (Airplane!) as Nicole’s mother. While many of these talented actors are disappointingly sidelined for much of the film (it’s Nicole and Charlie’s movie first and foremost), they do well with the time they get on screen.
While the movie succeeds for the most part, there are a few obstacles holding it back. The rather odd decision to have the leading characters employed in the entertainment industry (rather than more conventional careers) does tend to make them slightly less relatable. Additionally, considering their son plays a major part of the arguments seen in the film, we don’t really see enough about his day-to-day life, and he’s relegated to supporting status (couldn’t we have gotten at least one day in his life, away from the parents, as a means to see how it’s all impacting him?) Pacing is the biggest issue, with the move running over two hours. A few scenes needed to be cut and streamlined, and as is, it just feels a bit too bloated despite the end result being mostly satisfactory.
Yes, Marriage Story is too long, and sometimes it focuses too much on the wrong things and not enough on the right ones. But it’s a cut above your average “to Netflix” movie and is still worth seeing. The performances from Driver and Johansson alike are some of their best work, and fans of them won’t be disappointed. Strongly recommended despite the minor shortcomings.
Rating: Three stars out of four.
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