Marriage Story is a snapshot film; a story that shows us the marriage between two perfectly sane people and how that sanity can rapidly dissolve. Much like the stylistic intimacy of Ingmar Bergman’s TV Miniseries Scenes from a Marriage (1973) – this film also aims to provide a sort of “fly-on-a-wall” peek into two characters marital life experience. Directed by Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story follows the devastating divorce process between Charlie (Adam Driver) and his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) – while we witness the deconstruction of the couples relationship as they fight for custody of their son Henry.
Marriage Story is a film that is intent on wiring you up to feel the characters pain and torment through their eyes – every cold shoulder, every awkward interaction, and every passive-aggressive encounter that comes bundled during the painful process of divorce. Namely, Charlie’s (Adam Driver) – so yes, this film is primarily viewed from the lens of Charlie – a talented director who, throughout this story, you find is perhaps the one who shoulders a lot of the blame in the failure of this relationship. With that said, this story makes great efforts to paint the image that this couple’s relationship has no good or bad. Nobody in this situation is a winner or a loser – neither is a villain nor a true victim, so therefore, no one is truly to blame. Despite this, you can’t help but feel more for Charlie – despite the fact that, again, he shoulders a lot of the blame. It does not necessarily mean you root for him, as Charlie’s flaws are blatant, but as the film is shown from his angle, you’ll find yourself feeling his pain more often and thus sympathizing with his view.
If anything, this story is focused on telling us one thing: love is complicated beyond logic. The ludicrous reality of loving someone is one thing, but hating them at the same time; well that’s where logic leaves. Marriage Story aims to tackle all of these wacky and incomprehensible mind melting logical fallacies. All with the help of its extremely talented cast – Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, and Laura Dern.
Adam Driver provides potentially one of the greatest performances since Casey Affleck’s role in Manchester by the Sea (2016) – he explodes with emotion like a caldera and then subsequently reverts back to a more receded personality in the next scene. Driver’s range is shown here in full swing and is complimented by Johansson’s terrifically brutal portrayal of a wife going through equal hell. Her range as an actress only grows by the day. What these two actors do is show us how the separation from a lifelong partner is never truly tethered – how the connections formed are immune to time; and how the mess of it all is both natural and unnatural. If you leave this film thinking “this puts me entirely off the idea of marriage”, then it may benefit you to pause for a moment and take in what director Noah Baumbach is really trying to say – this film isn’t trying to persuade you of anything – it’s taking a radically neutral stance on every aspect it explores. Simply, this is a story of what happens when two people who now hate each other must ignore the emotional reality that they do in some way still love each other.
Though as splendid as its story is, Marriage Story utilises filmmaking techniques that emphasizes its tone. Cinematographer Robbie Ryan uses the camera in a way that captures the dynamic of the relationship. Lingering on the reactions of characters that allow the audience to feel what the characters are going through. The lighting is soft and intimate, creating a strong sense of atmosphere. The film is strictly located in Los Angeles and New York which become very distinctive utilising features that are unique to both areas.
The two locations are used in a way that creates tension between characters and the struggles of each character. The set-design hits the right mood by creating authentic sets that assists its narrative. Randy Newman composes a score that strikes a similar sound of Toy Story that adds so much warmth. The filmmaking techniques used in Marriage Story are subtle but is focused on creating the same level of heartfelt authenticity and intimacy that its narrative provides.
While Marriage Story holds a little more bitter than sweet, it’s the kind of bitter that we all need to experience every once in a while. Love, while beautiful, can become an iron shackle when both parties grow apart – eventually this shackle abrades and scars – leaving permanent marks. Director Noah Baumbach hasn’t just sculpted a story that accurately expresses the final breaths of a beautifully bankrupt relationship, he’s shown us that the craziness of it all is all too common and all too human. Marriage Story compiles the disorienting and emotionally torturous process of divorce into a tight and succinct narrative – detailing it more intricately than many of those who’ve experienced it firsthand could in their own words.