Marriage Story ★★★★½

Rick and Ilsa, Jack and Rose, Mia and Sebastian, and now Nicole and Charlie. Sometimes the best couples in film just aren’t meant to be together in the end. Unlike these other couples, Adam Driver’s Charlie and Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole did get married and shared their lives with each other for many years with no shipwrecks or wars interrupting the relationship and unlike these other couples, they, like half of married couples, ended their relationship with a divorce. When so many films show the magic of falling in love, it’s refreshing to have one show the struggle that comes with falling out of it, especially in a world where divorce is such a common occurrence. Still, it is Noah Baumbach’s choice to present the film as the story of one couple that happens to be going through a divorce as contained to their experiences, as opposed to a universal tale about all marriages, or at least those that end in divorce, that makes it such a powerful experience.

I haven’t been terribly thrilled with any of Baumbach’s prior work (even for a cynic like myself, seeing that level of unbridled, world weary skepticism can become irritating) but stepping out of his comfort zone for Marriage Story, he has not only made far and away the greatest work of his career, but has proven himself a highly talented writer and director with one of the best films in recent memory. Tonal balance, while integral to a film’s success, is often something not quite reached, and something I think Baumbach has struggled with in past film. In Marriage Story, however, there are deft switches between humor and sadness within single scenes and the film never feels lost or unaware of exactly what it is doing. It is an inherently depressing subject and from the film’s opening moments there is a sadness that weighs heavily but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be absolutely hilarious too.

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