“What you’re doing is an act of hope.” – Nora
With many directors, producers and actors blaming Netflix and other streaming services for what could end up being the end of cinema as we know, the streaming service is releasing several films in theatres for a number of weeks to be eligible for consideration during awards season. Many theatres are boycotting this strategy, so they aren’t playing Netflix’s films at all. The theatres in mostly bigger cities around the world that do play them , are selling tickets like hotcakes. After their short theatrical run, Netflix will make their Original Film available for their members. With Marriage Story, Netflix might even get their first Best Picture award handed over to them.
Noah Baumbach‘s Marriage Story is an incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together. While we flash through important and daily situations, we hear Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) explain what she loves about her husband Charlie (Adam Driver). Charlie loves being a dad, and how it’s almost annoying how much he loves it. He cries easily in movies. He’s very competitive, undaunted and is very clear about what he wants. These are only a few things Nicole loves about him. After that, it’s Charlie’s turn to tell us what he loves about his wife Nicole. She’s a great dancer – infectious. She’s a mother who plays, really plays. She gives great presents. While we hear this couple recite what they’ve written down, we get to meet them post-break-up in a marriage mediator’s office. This was part of an assignment, to fully understand why they got married in the first place. Nicole doesn’t want to hear what Charlie has written down, so what’s been put in writing is only something we, as the audience, get to hear out loud.
What follows then is an emotionally raw journey into growing up, while trying to figure out how to survive on your own. Happiness is a personal feeling and can’t be disguised as something as trivial as washing dishes or forgetting a grocery list on your way to the supermarket. We get to know little about Charlie’s childhood, but Nicole’s family and home are something that’s right in the middle of everything. There’s also their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), who gets pulled into this. Nicole thinks Henry is just like his father – almost joined to the hip. But when their marriage crumbles, and distance becomes an important factor in Henry’s upbringing, their assumptions are solely things that have been witnessed while being together, and are now changing rapidly.
The change in personality, after splitting up and having to deal with divorce, becomes very clear in both Nicole and Charlie’s behaviour. While Nicole seems very focused, meek and motherly, she turns into a woman who knows what she wants and isn’t holding back anymore. The only thing she’s holding back in front of Charlie – are tears. As if she doesn’t want him to see how vulnerable and damaged she is by everything that’s changing. “Love doesn’t make sense“, and no truer words have ever been spoken. Charlie on the other hand, who’s always been confident and career driven, is now crumbling down, defeated and uncertain of the future.
The cast is phenomenal. Adam Driver is the strongest of the bunch – a transformative, unseen, heartbreaking performance that no one will be able to shut up about during this year’s awards season, and deservedly so. Everyone is feeding off his energy and bringing their triple A-game to this truly exceptional film. Scarlett Johansson has never been better, playing a broken woman who wants the best for her family but can no longer wait for her dreams to become reality. Laura Dern as Nicole’s divorce attorney is Elle Woods all grown up and commands your attention. Ray Liotta in a comeback to the big screen (his last big film was in 2014’s ‘Sin City: A Dame To Kill For‘), makes you wonder where he’s been all this time. Merritt Wever and Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s sister and mother don’t get much screen time, but are here for some unexpectedly superb comic relief.
Baumbach also wrote the film and deserves all the accolades – a true master in writing and directing. He makes all of it seem effortless, with unprecedented results. The way he gets his cast to deliver minutes of dialogue, while his DOP, Robbie Ryan, zooms in and out, follows and swirls around them, to then play with shifting between different actor’s facial expressions in silent moments, is utterly enchanting. The cherry on top is Randy Newman coming back to compose a score for a live action film (his last live action film was 2008’s ‘Leatherheads‘) – masterful!
Marriage Story will get discussed in film school, years from now. It has everything to become an all time classic and will proudly get called one of the best films of the decade. A melancholic, heavy-hearted yet joyously bittersweet story about marriage and its unfortunate path to severance in order to find happiness. No cheek will be left dry.
Netflix Review – ‘Marriage Story’
Reviewed at Dendy Opera Quays, Sydney, Nov. 4, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 136 min.
PRODUCTION: A Netflix presentation of a Heyday Films production. Producers: Noah Baumbach, David Heyman. Executive producer: Craig Shilowich. Associate producer: Leslie Converse. Line producer: Marshall Johnson, Tracey Landon.
CREW: Director, screenplay: Noah Baumbach. Camera (color, widescreen): Robbie Ryan. Editor: Jennifer Lame. Music: Randy Newman.
WITH: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, Wallace Shawn, Alan Alda, Mark O’Brien, Brooke Bloom.