Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), a talented New York actress is married to popular director Charlie (Adam Driver). When Nicole accepts a television role in L.A., her marriage to Charlie begins to unravel.
Agreeing to remain civil and work things out together, Nicole strays from their agreement and hires Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern). By the time Charlie realizes that he is behind the eight ball, he scrambles to find decent representation. While these two former lovers stake out their claims, their son Henry (Azhy Robertson) works to adjust to his family being split in two.
Although the above synopsis may seem pedestrian, it is anything but. “Marriage Story” is a sad, funny, homage to life, love and understanding.
Nicole and Charlie are seemingly inseparable. She “cares too much, gives great presents, is competitive, strong and likes to brew tea that she never drinks.” Charlie “is undaunted, eats as if it’s his last meal, is very neat, energy conscious, loves being a dad, accepts Nicole’s moods, is also competitive and disappears into his own world.” And then they grow apart . . .
Director Noah Baumbach displays her love for this film in the care she takes in patiently unfolding this sticky narrative. Nicole and Charlie are talented, creative people, they take their careers seriously, but Charlie is self-absorbed and has not considered Nicole’s wants. Nicole is prone to emotional decision-making, that she regrets later, she states, “I never really came alive for myself; I was only feeding his aliveness.”
The journey that these two people undertake will be a familiar one for anyone who has experienced divorce or knows someone who has gone through divorce. An important reason that this film works so well is that both characters are blamed for their failed marriage and yet it’s really no one’s fault – years of faltering communication have built up walls, that seem insurmountable. The only winners in a divorce are the lawyers as both Nicole and Charlie are seen as victims.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson give outstanding, nuanced performances. They become regular people, you and I – as they struggle through heartbreak, frustration and anger. Yet, the heart and soul of this film is encompassed within two pieces of hand written paper, a note that may have changed the course of their marriage, but a lack of communication stymied the opportunity.
This simple secret creates the emotional climax that begins the healing that eventually brings much needed understanding.
“Marriage Story” is an emotional film that will send audiences through the wringer as a married couple is reduced to mean-spirited, petty people while within the court system – to finally find truth and common ground.