The male voice poetically says all the wonderful things he loves about his life partner Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). A series of little things, from gentle facial expressions to the way she moves and interacts with the people around her, to the tics and blemishes that only a loved one can notice and like, are shown frame by frame … Then Nicole starts talking in her warm and slightly melancholy voice about Charlie (Adam Driver). She talks about his outrageously crazy-loving appearance, his open expression of emotions, how he cares about his work colleagues and family … As Nicole finishes reading, it becomes clear to us that the couple is at a divorce mediator, and that all the wonderful things we heard in the opening minutes of Marriage Story by director Noah Baumbach, Nicole and Charlie have no power to tell each other.
Charlie is a successful avant-garde theatre director from the East Coast who just got the chance to make his latest play on Broadway. Born on the West Coast, Nicole is an actress who moved her life and career from Los Angeles to New York because of her husband. Somewhere in the career development process and the opportunities offered by the theatrical and film careers, the duo set off to different sides. What they both want is a peaceful and harmonious divorce so that they can continue their careers and not disturb their son, elementary schoolboy Henry (Azhy Robertson). As the couple grows apart and more and more mediators get involved in the divorce, every moment becomes more complicated.
Complicated real lives …
It’s been 14 years and 6 feature films since The Squid and the Whale celebrated Noah Baumbach. Marriage Story is a narrative return to the roots that glorified Baumbach and, at the same time, a masterful directorial performance, elevating this New Yorker to new levels of authorial appreciation. What has changed in the one and a half-decade is the very perspective of divorce (shifted from the eyes of a child experiencing a parent’s divorce to an adult going through the same) and the realism and level of the dramatic depiction of the everyday life story. That the return to “roots” was not necessarily targeted is confirmed by Baumbach himself, openly acknowledging that the inspiration for Marriage Story was his private life, that is, a three-year procedurally long and hellish divorce from his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Two cities, two careers, two loves …
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What is certainly first noticeable in the film is how Baumbach divides New York and Los Angeles into the cities to which Charlie and Nicole belong. From different colour palettes, through character handling and their dominance depending on the environment in which they are located, to a certain stage the east and west coast bring us closer to the character traits of the protagonists and their opposites. However, the director uses the distinction between the two spaces much more often to create a comical deflection in moments of difficult realistic drama, while leaving the conflict of character in the sphere of dialogue and carefully selected situations in which he places his characters.
Every encounter between Charlie and Nicole brings a new confrontation with the truth that neither of them is a villain, but simply that they want the opposite things in life that go on to hurt the other. What Baumbach does in his film is brilliant dialogue itself, through which problems never escalate to the end, but gradually grow and remain acclimatized in the air, slowly dragging the protagonist’s environment into the dispute itself (so Charlie’s theatre group begins to feel the consequences, as and family from Nicole).
Have Woody Allen’s times gone by?
In his previous work, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), Baumbach showed us how to appropriately convey the experience of everyday communication (with a series of background sounds when talking, innocent and infrequent intrusions by others, and parallel dialogue) times in Marriage Story he has not suspected that he is using this form of mimesis, which allows his viewers to be further introduced and emotionally attached to his story.
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For some time, Baumbach has been considered the “future heir” of Woody Allen, and with the Marriage story, this New Yorker has proven that he is much more than that. Marriage Story is a simple drama, which brings together the true emotions and experiences of a divorce by a top-notch actor and an undoubtedly talented director, made for the Netflix streaming service is one of the best movie achievements of 2019.