As they say, only lawyers benefit from divorce proceedings. That rings true in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story.
Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) have been married for a decade. They live and work in New York. She’s an actress originally from Los Angeles. She met Charlie when she travelled to New York as a 19-year old. He is a theatre director with a solid reputation who runs his own close-knit company. Nicole is his star performer. They now have a young son, Henry (Azhy Robertson) who they both adore.
They’re both good people, but along the way the wheels got stuck. She claims it was all about him and what he wanted to do. She wanted to go back to Los Angeles, but he had established his New York theatre troupe and didn’t want to let go of that. He also had a one-night stand with a member of the company. Now they’re set to go their separate ways, but they clearly still care about each other and about their son.
Nicole’s mother, Sandra (Julie Hagerty), has her own, particular personable relationship with her son-in-law. When Nicole moves back to Los Angeles, Charlie continues to divide his time between New York and LA. They both want an amicable separation without lawyers, but Nicole is persuaded to seek one out. She hires a lawyer at the top of her game in Nora Fanshsaw (Laura Dern) and the gloves come off.
Marriage Story reminded me of Kramer v Kramer, although this is less of a weepy than the 1979 drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep. In this case, it has the look and feel of a stage play. Many of the sets are minimalistic – in fact particularly sparse – reflecting a sense of loss.
Writer-director Baumbach has crafted a sensitive piece that makes you think and feel. It features a series of searing performances starting with the two leads, who go toe to toe. They’re well supported by Robertson as their son; and Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda as Nicole and Charlie’s respective lawyers. Dern as Fanshaw and Liotta (Jay) are a pair of hawks, while Alda (Bert Spitz) is more old school/humanitarian.
What goes on between them isn’t pretty. A lot is said in Marriage Story, but a residue of sadness remains. It’s in limited theatrical release before appearing on Netflix on 6 December 2019.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Dead to Me (Netflix) – streaming review
- Russian Doll (Netflix) – streaming review
- Modern Love (Amazon Prime) – streaming review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.