By Ambar Chatterjee
'Tender, intelligent, thought provoking …One of the best films of the year…'
Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Azhy Robertson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta
Director: Noah Baumbach
Rating: 5/5 (5 out of 5 Stars)
Marriage Story is a film like no other this year. It affected me in more ways than any other film this year even though many films entertained me more. This was the film that tugged at my heart the most. The story of Charlie and Nichole as they move through various phases of a divorce that none of them visibly want is a poignant and heartbreaking tale of how and why two individuals in love with each other sometimes just can't live with each other anymore. I couldn't finish the film on my first viewing and found it somewhat boring. However, for the purposes of this review and for the fact that this film was showered with accolades, I decided to give it another try and this time I ended up watching it twice on the trot. That was the last thing that I was expecting of myself but I felt compelled to watch it again and arrive at a climax (second time) that was just beautiful and pure wish-fulfillment. For this climax to make the kind of impact that it does, one needs to grow with these two characters through the film. Hence I had to watch the film to enjoy the little joys in the couple's life. Experience their pains and also occasionally take sides with Charlie.
When you are watching this film, you are bound to take sides with one of them and that in many ways is one of the fortes of the film. I knew Nichole was right in what she was doing but somehow my heart always went out for Charlie. Maybe it was because Adam Driver was so devilishly charming or was it because he looked so out of sorts without Nichole or maybe it is just because he never initiated the divorce. I will never know for sure. We begin by hearing Charlie and Nichole's account of what they like about each other and it just sets us up for the fact that how much they actually appreciate each other for the person that they were and yet they are unable to stay under the same roof. Post this point, the film, through many interactions and set pieces, establishes why the two are separating and gives us mostly Nichole's side of the story. Charlie doesn't want the divorce but he is angry with Nichole for reason that we learn in one angry outburst between the two. The two decide to amicably end the marriage without any legal intervention but then Nichole takes the advice of one of her friends and chances upon something that makes her reach out to an attorney played by Laura Dern. As Nichole declares legal war on Charlie, he is forced to find his own "asshole" (read lawyer) as he decides to beat Nichole at the game that she started.
The film then unfolds through a series of sequences involving Nichole handing over the court documents to Charlie, Charlie hunting for lawyers in LA, their wear and tear over who would have their son on a given day and time, court proceedings and a vicious fight that finally brings to the fore all the issues that they have with each other. This fight starts off like any normal discussion but reaches a crescendo that gives the impression that the couple might harm each other physically. However, what elevates this fight to a whole new level is how it culminates. The climax, as mentioned earlier was unexpected and was done with such intelligence that I couldn't help but be in awe of the director and writer. It wasn't anything earth-shattering but it was something that the writer and director were building up to from the very first scene and I was privy to the information that they use and yet, in the end, they present it in such a way that it made me go moist in the eye.
Adam Driver is fast becoming my favorite Hollywood leading man. He has been nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in this film and I am not surprised one bit. He is the one here who has side-lined his wife to be who he is and wants to be. He may be an effortlessly proficient dad but he is pretty bad at understanding what his wife wants out of her own life. If that was not all, he even cheats on her. And yet somehow Driver mesmerizes you with his performance in such a way that you are ready to forgive him for all his flaws. I loved him in the climax. I keep coming back to this scene and I cannot help it because in this scene lies the essence of the whole film. Adam Driver is in his elements throughout the film and there is a sense of confusion that he brings to his performance that really worked well for me.
Scarlett Johansson is a class act. She is brilliant in every scene of the film but I loved her most in three sequences. The scene where she shares her ordeal with her lawyer; the scene where she and Driver have a fight and the scene where she has to serve Adam a court document and is visibly crestfallen about it. Each of these scenes involves long takes and it was not only tough to remember so much that was said but was also a major challenge to keep up with the sentiments of the scene. Scarlett is so good in these scenes that I was practically able to feel every sentiment and turmoil of the character. It must be added that her character and also that of Adam Driver have to play off each other all the way through and they both excel in it. The chemistry between the two is electric. Again the way Scarlett plays off the climax and a little scene at the end of it all made me love her act even more. I am supremely confident that she might just get the award for Best Actress this year at the Oscars because underplaying (or playing it real) doesn't get better than this.
Two supporting cast members will definitely get your attention. Laura Dern as Nichole's and Ray Liotta as Charlie's lawyers. I just loved the courtroom scene that the two shared. It was hilarious and heartbreaking in a strange way. Julie Hagerty who plays Nichole's mother is audacious and hilarious. She is more on Charlie's side then she is on her own daughter's and she has pretty good reasons to back up her actions.
I can go on and on about all that I liked about Marriage Story but I believe that is pointless at this point in time. If you are reading this review up till now, you have already made up your mind to watch the film. If not, then I believe you might not watch it and it won't matter whatever more I write praising this film. I loved this film from start to finish. There isn't a single aspect of it that I didn't like or that could have been done better. To make a film like this and to extract performances like this from a pair who are best known for being "Kylo Ren" and "The Black Widow" is enough to summaries how good the director must be at his craft. If you have ever been in love and have gone through a breakup, you need to see this film. If you have been married and divorced, you need to see this film. If you have haven't been any of the above, you still need to see this film.