Marriage Story is an unforgettable, emotive tug-of-war

Superb writer/director Noah Baumbach brings us the film of his career so far with MARRIAGE STORY, an emotive look at the painful process of divorce.

Scarlett Johansson as Nicole and Adam Driver as Charlie in Marriage Story

Scarlett Johansson as Nicole and Adam Driver as Charlie in separate worlds

MARRIAGE STORY the new film from the superb writer/director Noah Baumbach is a film that will stay with you. Since being wowed by it at this year’s London Film Festival in October and raving about it in my post Movies with emotion to the power of three at the 63rd LFF, scenes from the movie have continued to flash into my mind frequently. Such is the emotive power of what Baumbach and actors Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, as the film’s central couple Charlie and Nicole Barber, have brought to the screen.

“I want to tell a love story where endings are not failures.”

Baumbach has said was his impetus to make this film. Although some of what we see may have been sparked by the bitter break-up of his marriage to the actor Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach makes us laugh as well as cry as we watch the painful process of divorce which Nicole and Charlie embark upon. He deftly makes our allegiance shift from one to the other with the emotional rollercoaster of events. In the beginning, we’re with Nicole as we watch her extricate herself from the New York scene in which the couple have lived for the last 10 years running a successful theatre company. An opportunity for Nicole to go to L.A. to get back into film and TV presents itself and its the catalyst that begins the breakup of their relationship once Nicole employs the wonderfully smooth but merciless divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw (an incredible Laura Dern). Taking their 8-year old son (an adorable turn from Azhy Robertson) isolates Charlie and it’s when he arrives on the west coast to be served with the divorce papers that his nightmare starts.

Charlie (Adam Driver, Henry (Azhy Robertson) and Nicole (Scarlett Johnasson) work together

Charlie and Nicole working together for the good of their son Henry (Azhy Roberston)

So, we then side with Charlie as we see him struggle to retain a divorce lawyer, going first with the brutally aggressive Jay Marotta (a fabulous Ray Liotta) and then with the more compassionate Bert Spitz (the always-wonderful Alan Alda). But the divorce process becomes ever more acrimonious as each party battles out the details of the split and so at one point Nicole and Charlie try to talk it out themselves. It’s this bravura 10-minute scene that will knock for six as it contains some of the most brilliant acting you’ll see in this or any year from Johansson and Driver. Nominations and awards will surely follow for both of them and likewise for Baumbach who has brought us the film of his already much-admired and Oscar-nominated (for his other marvellous look at the disintegration of a marriage, The Squid and the Whale) career.

This is a movie that really gets under your skin. It’s so emotive and speaks to anyone who’s ever been in love, not necessarily through a divorce. Love is what binds these two characters together throughout all the fights and reminiscences of their time together – a highlight being Driver singing an impromptu rendition of “Being Alive” from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company in a New York jazz bar towards the latter end of the film. We witness Charlie’s discovery of how much Nicole really means to him through the song and how perhaps he never realised how much until that very moment. It’ll reduce you to tears if you haven’t already been overwhelmed by the sheer power of the story up to that point.

Aside from the formidable trio of talent as the lawyers, the rest of the supporting cast is worth a mention as it includes Julie Hagerty and Merritt Wever as Nicole’s mother and sister respectively; Wallace Shawn as one of theatre company actors; and Nancy Katz as the evaluator sent by the court to Charlie’s new apartment – an absolute gem of a scene.

The same can be said for the whole film – MARRIAGE STORY is an absolute gem, do not miss it.