If there was one word that I would use to describe Marriage Story, it would be “honest.” This is a BRUTALLY honest portrayal of divorce and never shies away from telling you how each character feels. It’s hard to watch at times and I found myself forcing myself to NOT pause the movie, just to get through it. But I did any way. I’m starting to think that maybe this was why it was put to Netflix. But then again, I’m a very emotional person. I cry during A LOT of movies.
AND BOY DID I CRY HERE.
But this time was different. What I felt, for a large portion of this movie, was just pure sadness and shear emptiness. It felt wrong. It didn’t feel like my emotions were being toyed with, it felt like I was actually feeling the misery that was onscreen. And I kept thinking to myself, “Why do I feel this way? Why am I not crying like I do with movies similar to this?” Because this isn’t really a movie… it’s a play that just happens to be on a screen. But even then, a debate can be made against it. The real reason why this… this… this “THING” made me feel the way I did, is because of how REAL it feels. The way it’s written and acted and even directed is real. I feel like I’m watching a couple’s relationship fall apart while sitting on their love seat just two feet away.
Praise has been thrown about like candy for Marriage Story, and certainly does deserve it. Marriage Story is Noah Baumbach’s best work — almost by a mile. This is easily a contender for the following: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay —aka THE BIG FIVE. Even the score by Randy Newman is incredible. The acting from the entire cast shouldn’t even need to be touched upon. But since this is a review, I might as well. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson are great as Nicole and Charlie Barber. Laura Dern, Merritt Wever, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, and Azhy Robertson — great. Actually, forget that, everyone is great — main, side, and extras. All of them are great.
I’ve heard people compare this to Kramer vs. Kramer and an argument could be made there. But Kramer vs. Kramer is a very thematic movie. There’s nothing thematic about Marriage Story. Okay, well, that’s not entirely true. There is one scene with a knife and one scene at a bar, but that’s about it. Two scenes about two minutes long. That’s four thematic minutes in a two hour and seventeen minute movie. And when I say thematic, I mean long monologues about trying to win the other person back or running to an airport after the papers are signed to confess your love. There’s nothing like that here.
Marriage Story tries to ground itself in its characters and their very REAL situation. Besides a lot of the depressing bits, which there is plenty to be found here (specifically the apartment scene), there’s also quite a bit of comedy here — good comedy. It helps lighten the mood before devastating your heart with real world sadness and bitterness. The fact that these scenes were shot on film and use the 1.66:1 aspect ratio helps even more.
The film’s story never feels slow, and its progression is one of breeze. But that breeze is caring salt… mountains of salt because the degression of Charlie and Nicole’s relationship is frustrating and saddening. When I said this movie feels like real people, I meant it. Actions play out that are small but hold so much meaning behind them.
A moment of contemplation and looking at old family photos after being served divorce papers. Your only child showing favoritism when he’s completely unaware of what’s going. Losing your temper on said child when they don’t want to spend time with you, even though this is the only time you’ll get. Your family loving your ex when you don’t. Your child not wanting to wear the costume you and your friends put too much time and effort into making. And finally, exploding at your ex for ruining your life and then they scream back at you for the same reasoning.
And that’s what this movie does well: showing moments. Everyone has likable moments and unlikable moments. All the characters are treated pretty fairly, though I found Nicole to be a bit on the meaner side at times. Charlie has his moments too, but Nicole’s moments felt more sinister, at times sadistic. But that’s how people are. We have our nice moments and sometimes we can be absolute bastards to each other. Like Nicole and Charlie, we could absolutely hate the person we love in the heat of the moment, and then completely forget that we hate them and just have a nice moment. That hate, that anger, that frustration — just gone. It could be for a moment, but it’s gone.
Noah Baumbach is a filmmaker that has something that I don’t think many other filmmakers has: an understanding of people. In a lot of the movies of his that I’ve seen, I’ve always felt different watching them than when I watched something by Wes Anderson or Tom McCarthy. I never feel like I’m watching a movie. People see movies to escape from the harshness of reality, and that’s just something that Baumbach can’t do. And that could be a deal breaker for a good many people, because I cannot picture the average movie goer casually scrolling through Netflix, and thinking to themselves “I got a few hours to kill, why not watch Marriage Story?” That’s not how that works.
You need to be somewhat prepared to see this movie. That escapism element that many of us look for won’t be here, because this movie won’t let you escape. There is no escapism here. There’s no happy ending, not really. It tries to convey something that should be bittersweet but ends up being a painful reminder of what was lost. By the end, I didn’t feel like I found anything positive to pull from. Sure, there could be something there but I didn’t find it.
I have many friends whose parents are divorced and they have friends whose parents are divorced. This will undoubtably feel like reopening a wound you thought was healed years ago. And if a movie or film, rather, can make someone feel that same pain, even their parents are still together, it must be appreciated and commemorated.
VERDICT: 5 out of 5 Stars
Marriage Story is an achievement, but my God, I cannot bring myself to watch it a second time. This movie took so much out of me, with the apartment scene in particular was gut-wrenching. Noah Baumbach has made one of the best films I have ever seen and will go down as a classic. I believe that, I really do. But one doesn’t enjoy Marriage Story. YOU won’t enjoy Marriage Story. I don’t think I can even recommend it, because that would mean subjugating others to the same feelings I had here.