Writer-director Noah Baumbach first gained widespread critical acclaim with The Squid and The Whale, an autobiographically inspired child’s-eye view of a family falling apart. His latest offers a reverse-take on a similar scenario – a bittersweet portrait of an imploding marriage told from the perspective of the couple for whom custody of their child becomes an increasingly fractious issue. Just as Jeff Daniels declared that “the whole thing’s very complicated” in 2005, so Scarlett Johansson insists in Marriage Story that “it’s not as simple as not being in love any more”. Yet while those phrases seem to echo each other, making these films apparent companion pieces, the distance that Baumbach has travelled since the days of The Squid and The Whale is enormous. Lacking the embittered dyspepsia of his Margot at the Wedding, and blessed with a generosity of spirit that has grown in the wake of While We’re Young, this often hilarious heartbreaker is simply Baumbach’s best film to date – insightful, sympathetic and rather beautifully bewildered.
Marriage Story opens with a recitation of observed qualities – some profound, others typically quirky – that Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) love about each other. “She makes people feel comfortable about even embarrassing things,” says Charlie, as loose-limbed, hand-held shots show intimate images of the subject of his affections. “She listens, she chooses great presents, she’s brave, she’s a mother who plays – really plays.”
Nicole - Account - Ease - Charlie - Cries
Nicole’s own account appears no less glowing, citing the ease with which Charlie cries in movies, the fact “he loves being a dad”, that he’s “brilliant”, “energy conscious” and “never lets other people keep him from what he wants to do”.
It sounds like a perfect relationship, albeit one in which both parties are “very competitive”. But it’s soon revealed that these testimonies are just opening salvos...
Wake Up To Breaking News!