It’s been 15 years since filmmaker Noah Baumbach made his breakthrough movie ‘The Squid and The Whale‘ which netted him an Academy Award Nomination for Original Screenplay. In the years since he has helmed several intriguing and enjoyable movies such as Margot At The Wedding, Greenberg and Francis Ha, yet none of them captured that original form.
However his latest movie MARRIAGE STORY, which he wrote and directed, is being acknowledged as his very best yet and not only shows what a gifted script writer he is, but that after all he does have a wonderful nuances sense of humor that has never fully surfaced before.
Despite its title, this is a story about divorce, a subject that is always ripe for some drama. NY theater director Charlie (Adam Driver) has been married to his leading-lady actress wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) for 10 years, and they have an 8 year old son Henry (Azhy Robertson). We first meet the couple at a therapy session where they are taking turns describing each other’s endearing habits. It is clear that they still love each other, so its not exactly obvious why they are getting divorced.
But that’s exactly what they are doing, and as Nicole and Henry moves back to LA to live with her mother (Julie Hagerty) and film a new TV pilot, the initial plans for the divorce seem extremely amicable. Nicole’s main reason for the separation is because she has been living her NY life doing avante-garde theater so that Charlie could follow his own dreams, and it is now turn to follow her own by doing TV the other side of the country.
Instead of being led by Charlie now, Nicole has her mother to push her to regain her independence plus the perfect celebrity feminist lawyer in Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern). Now all question of there now being the amicable split they had promised each other goes right out of the window. Charlie still believes in natural justice and so engages a gentle bumbling lawyer (Alan Alda) but when Nora runs rings around them both, Charlie hires a set of hard-boiled attorneys that he can ill-afford to fight back.
Baumbach goes out of his way not to take sides., and ensures that neither party appear as the demons of the piece. There are to be no winners and losers in this ….in theory at least… and he gives each of the couple at least one powerful monologue to rant and rage a little to win us over. The chemistry between the two may be impalpable but it is also completely electrifying to witness.
There is a final attempt to reconcile when Nicole turns up at Charlie’s rather sad looking empty rented Condo, but the passion that she rouses in him is misplaced and in one of the film’s most climactic scene, it is obvious that this is now all too late.
Baumbach’s lead actors all put in pitch perfect mesmerising performances that are bound to pick up awards., but kudos for the casting of all the supporting roles too with such a talented crew.
Towards the end of the film Baumbach really surprises us with two perfect Sondheim songs from Company his musical about marriage. Nicole and her mother belt out ‘You Could Drive a Person Crazy ‘ while Charlie back in NY does a very wistful rendition of “Being Alive” in a piano bar after work. It makes for a gentle ending for a relationship that should never have fallen apart, and a film that you now do not want to end.