I now understand why everyone hates working with lawyers.
In the past, I’ve reviewed 13 Netflix original movies. Some have been exclusive to the platform and have given off a strong “made-for-TV vibe.” Others, while finding more popularity with the streamer, have actually made their way to theatres with a limited release. Marriage Story (2019), one of the site’s newest movies, deserves to be seen in theatres. Sure, I appreciated that I didn’t have to leave the comfort of my home to watch this movie, but Marriage Story is so impressive that I would have gladly witnessed it on the big screen. Despite not having any wild effects, explosions or stunts, some stories manage to still be big, bold and vibrant. That’s Marriage Story.
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story follows Nicole and Charlie Barber, a couple going through a divorce. Nicole and Charlie, an actress and director respectively, split their time between New York City and L.A. as they endure each grueling step of a divorce. As the process drags on, they reflect on their marriage as a whole, both the good and the bad, all while trying to do what’s best for their young son, Henry.
So, this movie literally starts with the words “MARRIAGE STORY” against a dark screen with Scarlett Johansson emerging silently from the shadows. Immediately I thought, “oh no. This is going to be overly pretentious and unrelatable isn’t it?” Turns out, I could not have been more wrong. Marriage Story is an intricately told and moving story that wonderfully captures the highs and lows of married life. Or at least, recalls the highs as Nicole and Charlie experience the bitter lows. The opening scene, two fantastically performed monologues by Johansson and Adam Driver, set up an ideal, enviable relationship. You find yourself grinning and swooning and then BAM! The bomb is dropped that they despise each other and are splitting up. These monologues not only help set up the movie’s plot, but introduce us to Nicole and Charlie, played by Johansson and Driver. The pair are set up as well-rounded, dynamic, interesting characters that I genuinely wanted to learn more about. And boy, did I learn more about them.
In a word, Johansson and Driver are jaw-dropping. These two aren’t just acting. They’re ACTING. Especially Johansson. Despite sharing top billing with Driver, she is the undisputed star of the movie. I’m not normally a big fan of Johnasson but even I can admit that she’s a talented and versatile actress, two traits on full display in Marriage Story. I can honestly say that this is Johansson like I’ve never seen her before. Utterly vulnerable, extremely raw, and fluid in both her speech and movement, Johansson shows off her legitimate talent and exceptional range masterfully. She’s able to mine even the smallest, insignificant pieces of dialogue for emotional resonance and bring them to the surface with ease. Over the course of the movie Johansson will have you relating to Nicole, rooting for her and reeling as she explores the full depths of what it means to be a mother and wife. I would be flabbergasted and more than a little disappointed if she doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination.
Driver manages to reach similarly impressive heights with his own performance, but never quite as high as Johansson. Driver’s great, don’t get me wrong, but his scenes are decidedly less intriguing to watch than Johnasson’s. You can tell that she gets the meatier scenes and it’s only when they’re together that Driver really comes alive (oh, we’ll talk about the phenomenally expressive writing). For me, Driver occasionally came off as monotone. That, coupled with the fact that I found myself rooting against his character, made me more excited to see scenes with the side characters rather than Charlie.
Oh my God, the side characters. This is an exceptionally talented supporting cast, all of whom deserve awards in my opinion. First of all, Laura Dern is fucking fabulous. I’ve loved her since Jurassic Park (1993) and am happy to report that she brings just as much charisma and brilliance to her role as Nicole’s lawyer, Nora, as she does to every other role. She literally just walked into her first scene and I drew a sharp breathe and whispered to myself, “she’s fucking fabulous.” Watching Dern as well as Alan Alda and Ray Liotta, as Charlie’s lawyers, is pure delight. Each one one plays exactly the type of lawyer you’d expect them to and witnessing them spar with each other is mesmerizing. Just saying though, dear God please never let me have to deal with divorce lawyers. Dern, Alda and Liotta perfectly capture the frustration, awfulness and expense that lawyers wreak in a way that is bittersweet to watch. Oh, and if you’re worried there isn’t enough comedy in Marriage Story, keep an eye out for Julie Hagerty and Merritt Wever as Nicole’s mother and sister. Their scenes play like a sitcom and I loved every second of it. In both writing and direction, Baumbach utilizes the skills of the supporting cast perfectly.
Speaking of writing and direction, Marriage Story is just as captivating from a technical standpoint as it is from a performance one. From the opening monologues, which sounded like something straight from a novel, I could tell the writing would be sensational. Baumbach’s script is gripping and electric, keeping you invested in a story that flows naturally from beginning to end. The dialogue is dripping with fire and passion as Johansson and Driver make the script come alive in a way that is vibrant and amazing to watch. Every scene keeps you on your toes, a veritable conversational landmine. Bolstered by strong and realistic dialogue, I believe the pair as a couple. A couple that once adored each other thoroughly but have now drifted apart. A couple wrestling with their new reality. Marriage Story holds up a mirror to the titular union, ensuring that any spouse, at any stage in their relationship, can look at Nicole and Charlie’s story and go, “I’ve been there.”
Reminiscent of a modern day Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) – which you can check out my review for here – I believe that Marriage Story is going to score big at Monday’s Oscar nomination announcement. Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Director are just a few of the nominations I’m predicting, along with a handful of others. If you can spare two hours, definitely check out Marriage Story on Netflix. I promise every second is worth it. Well, except for that one Adam Driver karaoke scene.
Will you see Marriage Story?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!