Seemingly, a divorce is hardly the topic of a film that lasts over two hours, yet director Noah Baumbach has engineered this powerful affair into a sophisticated and modern take on parenting, with all the dignity that belongs to a child at the centre of it.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson excel in their roles as Nicole and Charlie Barber. As the plot goes, Nicole files for divorce from Charlie, the reasons are never fully given over to the audience. Nicole claims an affair took place, and while Charlie owns up to this, it is confirmed it took place after their separation. ultimately, their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) is placed in the middle of their turf war between Los Angeles and New York.
The beauty of Marriage Story is the humanity of the plot, being a rare statistic these days, I’ve not experienced divorce first hand, yet many adults will connect with this story both from Henry’s point of view and that of Charlie and Nicole. Throughout the film, I found myself asking what side one should take. Whether we were expected to take a side, and if one was presented to us. I settled on Charlie. It was an obvious choice to me, Nicole was the complex character in this, she wants conflict in the divorce. From uprooting to Los Angeles and making her mother stop seeing Charlie, it begins as a friendly divorce, yet turning ugly for the sake of no one, perhaps a symbol of the power of lawyers. Henry is placed in an unfortunate competitive position of his parents.
Marriage Story opens to a beautiful series of shots following Charlie and Nicole as they discuss what they actually like about each other. Nicole writes that Charlie is a dedicated father, “he loves everything your not supposed to love about being a dad” and Charlie writes that Nicole is a “mother who plays, really plays”. Its a stunning intro that sets the viewer up for a much softer view of the film, before harsh reality sets in as Nicole refuses to read the letter out to Charlie, of whom only hears it at the end when Henry finds it.
There is an essence of Marriage Story that could be perceived as being boring or slow. If it wasn’t for the complex humanity of each shot and expression, I’d follow this too. Driver and Johansson are addictive to watch, they haunt the screen with their heartbreak and confusion at their situation. Nicole describes to her lawyer Nora (Laura Dern) that it wasn’t as “simple as not being in love anymore”. The audience feels as if they are placed in line with Henry, being tugged and pulled in each direction. There is clearly still a lot of love there between them, but their love goes into a family sense in the final scene with the settling of the situation. Its a refreshing modern twist on Hollywood and divorce, glamorized for so many decades.
Marriage Story is now available on Netflix