What is it about?
Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is back with a new Netflix-backed film that takes an incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breakdown. Already a hit in American cinemas, Marriage Story details the divorce proceedings of Charlie and Nicole Barber, a stage director and actor who work together on Charlie’s productions, as they struggle through a punishing, bi-coastal separation.
With divorce proceedings in full swing as the film opens, we learn the pair have promised to keep their separation amicable. But it’s not long before Nicole – keen to break away and take on a lead role in a TV pilot – is persuaded to go to court. Seen through the eyes of a child caught in the middle (the pair’s young son Henry) we witness the increasingly fractured relationship falter as aspiring star Nicole moves into her mother’s house in West Hollywood, forcing Brooklyn native Charlie to relocate to LA part-time in order to give himself a better chance of gaining custody over Henry.
Who’s in it?
Baumbach loves to fill his indie films with big-name actors (check out The Fantastic Mr Fox and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, both of which he co-wrote with Wes Anderson). Marriage Story is no different. First up, we have Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as Charlie and Nicole. We’ve been a big fan of Driver since he showed up as floppy-haired liability Adam in Girls in 2012. Since then, he’s become the show’s breakout star, starring in everything from Martin Scorsese’s Silence and the Cohen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis to the latest Star Wars trilogy. In Marriage Story, his Charlie evokes both sympathy and irritation, bringing a real compassion to the role as the unwillingly absent father. Johansson is always brilliant; here she excels in the conflict between being a good wife and an ambitious woman with something to prove.
Despite the terrific performances of the leads, Laura Dern (Big Little Lies) makes the film. She plays Nicole’s savvy family lawyer, who has more than a few tricks up her sleeve when it comes to playing the system. Elsewhere, Merritt Wever (Unbelievable, Nurse Jackie) plays Nicole’s vengeful sister, Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Hannibal) plays Jay Marotta, a brash and expensive lawyer, and Alan Alda (Bridge of Spies, The West Wing) impresses as fellow attorney Bert Spitz.
Is it worth a watch?
Baumbach based the screenplay on his own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. Despite the gloomy premise, this is a tender, often funny portrayal of the mundanity of a relationship breakdown. It’s balanced too – viewers are very much left to decide for themselves which side they take once the Barbers’ case goes to court.
The film has, of course, landed just in time for awards season. Academy judges are sure to be seduced by an LA setting and the focus on film-craft, which it shares with recently lauded productions La La Land, The Artist and Birdman. Just this week, Marriage Story won big at the Gotham Awards, picking up best feature, best actor for Driver, best screenplay for Baumbach and the audience award. The Gothams are often seen as an accurate precursor to the Oscars. We predict big things.
Marriage Story is available to watch on Netflix now.
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