Marriage Story        
Directed by
Noah Baumbach. Script by Noah Baumbach. Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta. Length 136 minutes. Rotten Tomatoes 97%

That this powerful film is based on a true story is obvious. But it becomes even more poignant when you realise that it is the director’s own story. Perhaps that’s the secret of its emotional dynamite.

This is probably Noah Baumbach’s best film. He is the director of several intriguing dramatic comedies based on life’s banalities, like the Oscar-nominated film The Squid and the Whale (2005). It’s based on the breakdown of his eight-year-long marriage to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Divorce is a well-trodden road in Hollywood. The originality of this film is that Baumbach doesn’t bother to chronicle the disintegration of the marriage. After setting the scene, he quickly takes the viewer to the moment when Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), a promising Hollywood actress, serves divorce papers to Charlie (Adam Driver), a successful New York theatre director.

This is a journey that no one in their right mind would ever want to travel. Any divorce is a failure, but I have rarely seen on the screen such an unsparing dissection of a relationship – but at the same time so humane and perceptive a view of the consequences of divorce.

What Baumbach does with delicious satire is depict the divorce circus of lawyers, social workers, counsellors and judges. It’s terrifying to watch the wreckage of a love story, with all of its intimacy, turning into a pitched battle, while the circus staff around them just go through the motions with bored indifference.

Marriage Story’s insight is the contrast between a savage take-no-prisoners battle inside the courtroom and the spouses’ occasional, albeit wary,  tenderness outside it. The 1979 film Kramer vs Kramer was gut-wrenching, but Baumbach’s story is even more heart-breaking. It makes one realise that something is deeply wrong with our society if we are not able to somehow rescue failing marriages like these in which the spouses still love each other.

Marriage Story does not have a neat moral or a happy ending. But Baumbach is a master of presenting the viewer with the pain of making these deep human dilemmas. It’s a deeply compassionate film.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are magnificent in interpreting their characters. There’s no point in piling on the adjectives. Watching them is 136 minutes of electricity.

Marriage Story is a magnificent film, with flawless acting and an intense and intelligent script. It’s also a textbook of psychology and anthropology – a movie that will provoke hours of discussion.

Ana Sánchez de la Nieta writes for Aceprensa. This review has been republished from Aceprensa. @AnaSanchezNieta       

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is the editor of MercatorNet