Telluride Film Festival Review: Marriage Story is Noah Baumbach’s Crowning Achievement as a Filmmaker.
Love him or hate him, Noah Baumbach has made a quite a name for himself in the film world. I have always been a fan of his work but can see why others don’t like his previous outings. Baumbach, as a filmmaker and storyteller, is an acquired taste especially when the majority of his films are centered on hipsters living in a major city. However, Marriage Story is unlike anything that he has done before. Inspired by Baumbach’s divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh, Marriage Story follows Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they deal with their daily lives after filing for divorce.
From the very first scene until the very last scene, it is abundantly clear that Baumbach poured his heart and soul into this film. The character of Charlie is a characterization of how Baumbach remembers himself during at the time of his divorce. Driver must have worked very hard to understand Baumbach’s pain and frustration because he delivers one of his best performances yet. Driver’s take on Charle is one that is deeply nuanced and shows his range as an actor. By agreeing to play Charlie, Driver had to find that perfect balance of being funny while also showcasing genuine emotion.
Scarlett Johannson, who has spent the majority of the last ten years reprising her role as Black Widow in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, delivers what I believe is her finest performance since Lost in Translation. As Nicole, Johannson like Driver must find that balance between comedy and drama. She at times will make you laugh but have you tearing up in others. You can see in Johannson’s eyes that something about the script struck a chord with her. When the tears stream down her face, I felt the pain that she was feeling.
At no point during the film do you feel like you watching actors acting. Instead, as a viewer, you feel like you are a fly on the wall that is watching these two peoples lives crumble around them. As a storyteller, Baumbach understands that he needed to tell this story from two different perspectives which is why the first 45 minutes of the film is mostly centered on Nicole and why she decides to file for divorce.
There is no question that Baumbach has taken his heartache and pain and turned it into art. Marriage Story feels more like a stage play than a movie. A lot of film’s most powerful moments take place in a single room. At one point in the film, Charlie and Nicole try to work out the details of their divorce without lawyers. This scene is the most poignant and the hardest one to watch. As someone who has had several long term relationships and is currently married, I have been in that fight before. It is scenes like this one where I think almost anyone who has been in a relationship will connect with this Baumbach’s journey in some way, shape or form.
For those who are fans of theater or musicals, there are certain scenes in Marriage Story that will speak to you on a much deeper level than those who aren’t. Please do not try to look up these moments online beforehand. They will ruin the effectiveness that they have in the film. Trust me on this one.
Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta all play lawyers and each one of them brings something unique to the film and their characters. Alan Alda plays this is sort of old school lawyer who is out of touch, a bit too passive, and loves to tell stories. Laura Dern’s character is very much an example of what I would envision a California lawyer to be like. Ray Liotta plays the type of lawyer that wants to avoid all of the nonsense. He is in it to win it. All of these legendary actors have a least one scene where they shine and remind us why they are some of the best actors in Hollywood.
While there are a lot of secondary characters in the film, this is ultimately a love story about Charlie and Nicole. During the 2 hours and 15 minutes that audiences will spend with these two characters, you will watch them fall in and out of love throughout. Marriage Story could be one of the most realistic depictions of marriage ever brought to life on film. There are moments where the viewer will fall in love with Charlie and Nicole as a couple and as individuals. It goes to show you how powerful storytelling can be when it’s grounded in reality and truth.
Brutally honest, raw, and heartbreaking, Marriage Story is Noah Baumbach’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker. This will be one of the most talked-about films of this year but also of the decade. Driver and Johansson are at the top of their game delivering some of the best work of their careers. Marriage Story will make you laugh and cry but most importantly, remind you that one thing that is reliable to all of us is love.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel rating for Marriage Story is a 9 out of 10.