While I do love films that are just about “real life”, there are times where the reality of it can be overbearing, especially depending on the subject matter. The prime example for me is Judd Apatow’s This is 40. Well-acted and with developed characters, sure, but I felt like I was just watching my parents fight and have financial issues for an exhausting 133-minutes. It’s just hard to tolerate after a while and I was just waiting for it to end. Sometimes, relatability isn’t good a thing.

Marriage Story follows husband Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), going through a tough divorce. At the heart of this conflict is their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), in who they are both fighting for custody. Not wanting to go to court, it eventually escalates, and they team up with the best of the best divorce and family law attorneys. While the divorce is going to get messy, they still love each other and want to do what’s best for themselves and their son.

With the premise of Marriage Story, I was afraid it was going to be another boring and annoying childhood memory. Fortunately, there’s not a whole lot of arguing here and just a natural progression of a divorce. Charlie and Nicole spend about half of the film apart from each other, talking with their lawyers and family members. Their love for each other causes them to argue with them, too, but it’s not all inane family squabbles, but actual legal issues. They really don’t want to have to go after each other and court, but it eventually becomes the only real logical pathway, no matter how much they don’t want it.  There’s only one scene where the couple argues with each other, crying, screaming, and punching walls, but it’s basically the climax for the story. They try to show they still have some sort of love for each other despite all of this early on in the film, but with this, you truly see the conflict and why they’re just not compatible. It’s an amazing sequence from a writing, directing, and acting standpoint and feels completely real.

With that said, though, there are a lot more monologues than arguing here and it’s during these singular scenes where you get to see Driver and Johansson really shine as actors. Johansson gets a monologue to practically end all monologues with a two and half minute shot of her spilling her feelings and going through all sorts of emotions. It’s amazing how she can so easily and realistically cry on command, like a scene with her, Charlie, and Henry lying in bed together, with single tears running down her face. Adam Driver gets the less showy performance but is still just as excellent. He’s a master at subtle acting, communicating his emotions through the most restrained, yet natural, movements. Even through all their hurt, you can still sense the genuine affection they once had for each other and how they can maybe salvage it down the road, all for their son. Speaking of the son, he’s the unfortunate weak link here. A majority of Robertson’s dialogue is delivered stifly and without much natural emotion, like he’s reading off cue cards. Also, he plays with a Godzilla toy, but the one from the 1998 movie. What a little shit. Whenever it focused more on him than his parents, which wasn’t very often, I was taken out a bit. Luckily, he’s the only weak link, as veterans like Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Julie Hagerty complete the rest of his amazing cast with developed characters.

In typical Baumbach fashion, there’s not a whole lot in the way of style here. A lot of flat, wide-shots and closeups, with very basic back and forth, over the shoulder conversation scenes. I say none of those things negatively, though. It works perfectly for what he’s going for with this story in that it’s not about the style or visuals. It’s about the people and the actors portraying them. Baumbach doesn’t amp up melodrama with intense camerawork, and the clinical nature just make it all that more realistic. The set design is very modern and minimalistic. The characters dress in accordance to their personalities, no matter how fashionable. It all just feels so real and grounded. Randy Newman’s fantastic score doesn’t amp up any drama either, but just compliments it. While this is a story about a married couple getting a divorce, Newman’s somewhat whimsical score reminds you that even if you ended one part of your life, the rest of it will still go on. There’s also quite a bit of comic relief, but not incorporated just for levity, but in that it also feels natural in the scene. I found myself laughing quite a bit throughout all the sorrow. A lot of the laughs come from the tight editing, with many form edits used for comic timing. There’s not a whole lot plot wise, but with the editing, it’s brisk and never loses steam.

The idea of Marriage Story isn’t something that’s immediately appealing to me, as I stated above. I was worried that it would be another experience of watching This is 40, but I didn’t get a frustrating experience here. Instead, I got a heartfelt, funny, and real experience about a couple who truly love each other, but unfortunately just aren’t compatible in the long run. It’s the perfect mixture of comedy and drama, which is what real life is all about.


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