Marriage Story

MPAA Rating: R // Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Release Year: 2019 // Director: Noah Baumbach
Genre: Drama

Marriage Story is normal. Almost painfully so.

It’s a love story in reverse, told as Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) fall out of love and struggle through a divorce. At first, they try to keep it amicable, choosing to go through a mediator rather than a lawyer. But then Nicole moves to the wests coast for a role in a TV show and takes their son Henry with her, and Charlie wonders if this is some kind of bargaining ploy. Though he’s just gotten a grant for his next play, which he hopes to take to Broadway, Charlie begins making frequent trips cross-country in order to spend time with his son.

I know some people love Driver and Johansson, but their performances were lost on me. Driver’s Charlie had one speed and struck me as flat, except for a brief burst of emotion during the now infamous “argument scene“. Johansson was marginally better, with some variance in her performance, but I wanted more from both. Maintaining a certain gravitas and sadness, broken up by brief outburst of rage, isn’t a foolproof formula for compelling acting.

There were a few moments I truly loved, including the opening prologue, where Charlie and Nicole each share a letter detailing what they love about the other. There’s deep mutual attraction, love, and respect…except, somehow, there’s not. The reasons for this falling out are hinted at, and some are thrown about as weapons, but we still get this sense that the full reasons are never expressly defined. And though I don’t have any personal experience with divorce, I can imagine this is very accurate.

And honestly, the love for Laura Dern’s performance befuddles me most of all. I didn’t find it particularly good or memorable in the least. Alan Alda, on the other hand, carried every scene he was in, as only he can do.

One last thing. Randy Newman’s score—my god. I am in love. It runs for less than a quarter of the entire film, but every note is sublime. Possibly the best use of a score ever to enhance a film. I’ll watch this movie again just to listen to it.

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