Marriage Story is a lovely exploration of the crumbling of mankind’s most fascinating institution, Marriage. Noah Baumbach (Writer/Director) creates a textured world that homes people that only add to the realistic yet hysterical texture of it. Charlie and Nicole Barber played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are a couple whose marriage is built on the basis of their creative selves. Henry is their 6 year old son. Charlie owns a theatre group and is a renowned director. Nicole is the star actor of the plays, who has forgone a career in the movies in Los Angeles and has shifted to New York with Charlie to establish a reasonably rewarding career as a theatre artist.
Marriage Story begins with an inventive piece of screenwriting that not only serves the purpose of extrapolation but also allows for a bookending treatment of the screenplay. Both Nicole and Charlie read the best things about each other as the director visualizes the lines we hear. A sense of character and warmth is imbued into the first few moments of the film, which feel like clips from a documentary, with the voiceovers of Nicole and Charlie. Noah Baumbach makes some interesting directional choices, especially in the early parts of the film, as we discover the disruption in the marriage. The emotional and societal complexity the subject matter at hand possesses, is refreshingly dealt with a sense of cheekiness that does not assuage the torment of the couple’s lives. The film is a light-hearted, yet insightful dissection of the situation of a married couple seeking a separation. There is an amusing division of the writing and the directing in this film. The writing, certainly, explores relevant, complex themes such as Identity crisis, patriarchy and parenting. The intellectual heft of these themes does not translate onto the screen and that is by choice. Noah stages these scenes and directs his actors in a way that is at once riveting and weirdly funny. This amusing combination of writing and directing is done by Noah Baumbach, which is commendable.
One sequence in particular, serves as an example of the aforementioned duality.
Scene : Charlie is living in a newly rented house with barren walls. Nicole enters the house and notices the empty walls and offers to give him a picture of Henry(their son) to put up on them. This hollow house is symbolic of Charlie’s situation, where he’s been deprived of his son’s custody and more than anything, a say. As the scene progresses they intend to sort things out without the involvement of the legal procedure to get separated. This considerate attitude soon fizzles out as the blame game begins and the tempers rise high and the hysteria takes over the scene. Two adults, artists that are known for their profound work go at each other with the spite of a frustrated school kid and Noah masterfully guides this scene to a heartbreaking climax, as he brushes it with a tinge of humour along the way. In a 5-7 minute scene, with his writing and direction, he manages to evoke a range of emotions in the audience as we linger in that hollow house with the tormented couple.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are exceptional. Especially, Adam Driver with his body language and speech, conveys volumes about the kind of guy he is. A man who takes great pride in his art and is partially blinded to the decaying marriage. His restrained display of suffering in scenes where he realises that there is no love anymore between the couple is heartbreaking. The realisation of someone not loving you anymore, dawning upon you is perhaps the most devasting feeling and Adam Driver conveys the enormous emotional pain of this realisation with great sincerity and subtlety. Scarlett Johansson, however, is more in your face and by choice. Her constantly teary-eyed face is a canvas of disappointment and anger. It is difficult to articulate.. It is not as simple as not being in love anymore, she says to her lawyer. This exact emotional conundrum is explored by the the director. The characters never despise each other, we are constantly reminded of the stifled endearment they cause to each other as a couple despite the circumstances. The credit of these two terrific performances goes as much to the director as to the actors, for he extracts performances from them that are in sync with the tone the film tries to achieve.
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Marriage Story does not delve in the pathos of separation but treats you to a delicate, funny yet heartbreaking story. There are tears in the eyes but behind the moist aching, there is also a look of amusement, a look of endearment, a look of love, a possible spark that could rekindle the long-lost love. It is on this tenderly optimistic note that Noah ends the film. There is no resolution that it offers but a heartwarming end to a poignant story about marriage and love.