Arriving 40 years after Robert Benton’s Oscar winning Kramer vs Kramer. Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story may just follow in the award winning footsteps of its predecessor in 2020. By creating a film that not only echoes the character driven drama of Robert Benton’s movie. But also offers both a personal and assured reflection of the complexities of marriage and divorce in the 21st Century. One that both sings, and stings in masterful performances from both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.
Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson), live in New York with their young 8 year old son Henry (Azhy Robertson). With Charlie a talented theatre director. While Nicole works as an actor within Charlie’s theatre company. With both lives circling around individual and artistic growth. While equally centring on the needs of their young son. However, as both Charlie and Nicole slowly separate from each others worlds. Within a disintegrating relationship of poor communication and stifled opportunity. Nicole accepts an acting job in L.A. Taking Henry with her as the couples marriage turns to separation.
As Nicole forges a new life, divorce ultimately beckons. With both parties maintaining a need for a positive ongoing relationship. Even though feelings and emotions remain unspoken. However, despite this the reality of the divorce process leads to lawyers and potential court hearings. With Nicole hiring a tough LA attorney Nora (Laura Dern). While Charlie attempts to circumnavigate a wish for everything to go back to the simplicity of the past. With a need to equally hire a tough and relentless lawyer.
Back in 2013, writer/director Noah Baumbach divorced actor Jennifer Jason Leigh. And whether a Marriage Story reflects the turmoil of this experience will forever remain unknown. Unless of course Jason Leigh presents her own experience to the public. However, the screenplay for Marriage Story does speak to the possible personal experience of the director. And as a result occasionally feels slanted towards Charlie in emotional resonance. However, despite this Baumbach equally maintains a balanced view of the reasons for the relationship collapsing.
Ultimately creating a film that reflects the complexity of human relationships and the nuanced breakdown of marriage. Without feeling the need to instil a sense of blame. As both Charlie and Nicole navigate their own changes in lifestyle and love. While never forgetting the emotional turmoil of the children who sit between two people, who are desperate to maintain parental support and love. However, just as Kramer vs Kramer did 40 years ago, Marriage Story also reflects the damage of a legal system where blame is central to success.
This may sound rather dour and depressing. However, as with his previous films, Baumbach surrounds the drama with tenderness and love. While equally creating moments of beautifully orchestrated comedy. Providing the audience with a rollercoaster of emotion, which in turn allows for a theatrical aesthetic.
Meanwhile at the centre of this beautifully directed drama, are Johansson and Driver. Both embracing their characters and the complexity of their emotional journey with masterful performances. While being surrounded by a supporting cast who in turn add layers of humour, anxiety, fear and love to the journey.
Ultimately creating a character driven drama that soars in its ability to not only reflect the sadness of family breakdown. But also the hope of a more stable but different family future.
Director: Noah Baumbach