Marriage Story (2019)
IMDb rating: 8.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%
Actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson, who also played an actress in Match Point) and her husband, stage director Charlie (Adam Driver, who you’ll recognise from Girls) are going through a difficult divorce. That might not sound like rich fodder for a Noah Baumbach movie, but there are three issues that make the disintegration of this particular marriage more interesting.
For one thing, Nicole and Charlie still like and respect each other. The movie opens with each telling their therapist what they like about the other. They both say that the other is brave. Charlie loves that Nicole is a mom “who really plays”.
For another, they have an eight-year-old son, Henry, to whom they are both absolutely and whole-heartedly devoted. Because Charlie is as active and involved a parent as Nicole is, the custody battle during the divorce gets very ugly, very quickly.
And another complicating issue is that Nicole has recently moved back to LA to be close to her family while Charlie has stayed in New York for work.
As the story unfolds, we meet their divorce lawyers: Nicole chooses Nora (played by the luminous Laura Dern, whose performance as a well-heeled professional who’s not afraid to go for the jugular has echoes of her character Renata in Big Little Lies), and Charlie first hires Bert (Alan Alda), an affable sort whose advice is that the real win is whatever is best for Henry. Charlie soon changes his counsel and hires the more stereotypically aggressive divorce lawyer Jay (Ray Liotta).
We watch the marriage fall apart and we witness the fights, the tender moments Charlie and Nicole still share, their adoration for Henry, and the whole way through we find it impossible to pick a side. Neither of these flawed, ordinary people is wrong, or bad – and that is possibly the greatest triumph of director Noah Baumbach’s film.
Critics have praised Johansson and Driver’s performance. The Seattle Times says: “Johansson and Driver are remarkably, heartbreakingly good in every scene; showing their characters’ journeys to an unflinching camera, letting the gap between them get wider yet unable, for their son’s sake, to completely walk away.”