One of the hardest things for Hollywood to get right when dealing with real-life dramatic material is the sheer normality of it.
Most of us don’t go through life hot-headed and having dramatic life-affirming moments filled with snappy dialogue.
Yet Marriage Story, a movie about a couple going through a divorce, manages to mine the comedy and upset that comes in the small moments lived every day.
What Is Marriage Story About?
Nicole (Scarlett Johansson, Lucy) and Charlie (Adam Driver, The Dead Don't Die) are a couple out of love. When we meet them they are friendly but going through mediation and separation, leading to divorce.
They are conscious of their 8-year-old son, Henry, and are resolved not to use lawyers. Yet some aspects are bubbling under the surface.
The family had been based in New York as Charlie runs his theatre production company with Nicole often starring.
But when she is cast in a TV pilot and takes Henry with her to live in Los Angeles, the coast-to-coast family stretch means that point-scoring sneaks into their ongoing divorce.
Director Noah Baumbach masterfully controls the pace of Marriage Story. The opening scenes are narrations from both Nicole and Charlie about all the things they love about the other, intercut with footage of the moments they shared.
In a few minutes, we get a great shorthand for both characters before we cut to realising that they are doing this under the instruction of a mediator and the process isn’t working.
Marriage Story Official Trailer
Is Marriage Story Worth Watching?
The first act focuses on Nicole and is a showcase for Johansson’s ability to show her thinking process. Marriage Story gifts the actors with long scenes full of great and normal sounding dialogue.
So when Nicole tentatively meets with a lawyer, the length of the conversation is more her talking herself around to accepting that her feelings are legitimate; Johansson’s expressiveness is a window into her mind.
“You will ALWAYS be held to a different, higher, standard,” chastises her lawyer (Laura Dern playing insincere sincerity to a tee), and Johansson’s discomfort is a picture.
Once the point of view shifts to Charlie, we see through his eyes how a divorce process can run away from you. Driver portrays the mounting frustration of how one-on-one conversation makes perfect sense, but the presence of lawyers and hearsay sow the seeds of doubt. “But we agreed,” he keeps protesting, losing sight of what’s best for his son by instead focusing on getting his allotted time.
Marriage Story has little in the way of directorial tricks. Instead, it gives great actors plenty of room to work and crafts the ebb and flow of the story around relatable scenes.
Yet when the inevitable (and very meme-able) massive row finally hits, its nuclear escalation reveals years of held-back dark thoughts and secrets from the pair. Then you notice Baumbach’s sleight of hand.
Charlie helps Nicole fix a gate that symbolically separates them. Closing scenes show Nicole surrounded by a laughing family, yet for Charlie, singing in a silent bar where the camera focuses exclusively on him, highlights his selfish nature.
For a movie about the most miserable time in the lives of those who live it, Marriage Story connects by finding the cinema in the everyday. It’s a comedy-drama blend that doesn’t overdo either, with each element complimenting the other. A perfect marriage, you might say.
Words by Michael Record
How Many Awards Did Marriage Story Win?
Marriage Story received numerous awards and nominations across major film festivals and award ceremonies.
Academy Awards (Oscars): Laura Dern won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Nora Fanshaw.
Golden Globe Awards: Laura Dern also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. The film itself was nominated for several other Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Actor for Adam Driver, Best Actress for Scarlett Johansson, and Best Screenplay.
BAFTA Awards: Laura Dern again won for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Critic’s Choice Movie Awards: Marriage Story won for Best Original Screenplay, and Laura Dern won for Best Supporting Actress.
Venice Film Festival: Marriage Story won the Best Film award at the festival, and it was also in competition for the Golden Lion, the festival's top prize.
The film was widely acclaimed for its direction, screenplay, and performances, especially those of Laura Dern, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, and its realistic and empathetic portrayal of a marriage coming to an end.
Cast Of Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson as Nicole Barber, an actress who starts the movie married to Charlie. She decides to move to Los Angeles with their son to pursue opportunities in television, which becomes a major point of contention in their marriage.
Adam Driver as Charlie Barber, a successful theater director living in New York. Over the course of the movie, he struggles with the dissolution of his marriage and the battle for custody of his son.
Laura Dern as Nora Fanshaw, Nicole's divorce lawyer. She is charismatic and ruthless, advocating fiercely for Nicole's interests.
Alan Alda as Bert Spitz, Charlie's first lawyer. In contrast to Jay, Bert has a more compassionate and amicable approach to divorce.
Ray Liotta as Jay Marotta, Charlie's second lawyer, who is aggressive and known for his combative approach to divorce proceedings.
Azhy Robertson as Henry Barber, the young son of Charlie and Nicole. He is caught in the middle of their divorce, and the film depicts how the separation affects him.
Julie Hagerty as Sandra, Nicole’s mother. She has a friendly relationship with Charlie, which becomes complicated due to the divorce.
Merritt Wever as Cassie, Nicole's sister. She supports Nicole through the divorce but also has a complex relationship with Charlie.
Wallace Shawn as Frank, a friend and colleague of Charlie's.
Martha Kelly as Nancy Katz
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