“Marriage Story”: an Emotionally Moving Masterpiece to the Nth Degree

Joel E. Wood II

When someone talks about marriage, what is your first thought? Is it weddings? Honeymoons? Growing old together? Finding and re-finding each other?

If someone mentions marriage I personally immediately think of the wedding scene from The Princess Bride “Mawrriage… Mawrriage is what brings us together today.” If you were to pull any love story that involves marriage off the shelf,  it will most likely involve one of the examples above. Even stories that involve divorce end with a happy ending.

This is what makes Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” so different. Instead of being another story of a couple on the brink of divorce that re-find each other, it is the story of two individuals who find a way to understand that it is ok to love the other: even after a divorce.

“Marriage Story” is the tale of director and husband Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and actress and wife Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) and their journey to find themselves. They are searching for their identities in relation to their son, Henry Barber (Azhy Robertson), a boy who tells his parents what they want to hear to make them feel better. Together, they find the new reality they are creating for themselves and each other.

Charlie is a man who focuses too much on his work. He came from nothing but made himself into a distinguished theater director in New York with his own theater company, and who has won a Mcarthy Grant. He wants everyone to move back to New York so that he can be with his son and his work. He knows that he no longer wants to be married, but also knows he does not want to lose his son or be divorced.

Nicole was born into a Television acting family from L.A. Nicole started her acting career in a film about a college girl called “All Over the Girl.” She then met Charlie by going to one of his shows and their relationship blossomed from there. She feels like she hasn’t been able to truly shine while married. She feels that he has been selfish throughout their marriage and that it’s time for her to go back to L.A. and start a television acting career and really find herself.

Even though Nicole and Charlie had agreed to handle the divorce without lawyers; while in L.A., Nicole meets with a divorce lawyer named Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), a smooth-talking, fearless and ruthless divorce attorney. This does not sit well with Charlie, who then has to find a lawyer himself. He does not like lawyers: they are either too expensive or do not listen to him. All he wants is to get his family back to New York.

As the film continues, both parties are blinded by their own pride, stubbornness, and visions of what they believe is best. This blindness creates tension that eventually explodes after an emotionally taxing day in court. But then something unexpected happens.

Charlie and Nicole’s blindness and tension seem to slowly dissipate and eventually disappear. It’s as though all their pride and stubbornness drained away in that one, terrible explosion/

The film doesn’t end with flashy firework bangs or triumphant music. Nicole and Charlie reach the understanding that even though they both love each other, they can not continue to be with each other. They are not good for each other and, in some cases, love just is not enough.

New York Premiere of “Marriage Story” hosted by Netflix at The Paris Theater. Pictured: Noah Baumbach (Director), Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Azhy Robertson, Adam Driver, David Heyman (Producer) Photo by: Marion Curtis / StarPix for Netflix (Marion Curtis)

“Marriage Story” is a major emotional roller coaster that Noah Baumbach does not make easy to ride. Throughout the film, the audience is left on the fence about whose side they are on. One moment you are on team Nicole, but then the next you are on team Charlie.

Baumbach’s use of camera angles will emotionally move you as well. Sometimes it seems the audience is the child watching mom and dad fight in the other room, struggling to understand their parent’s fights.

“Marriage Story” is a deep film that jumps in and handles the nitty-gritty of divorce and how it can tear down but also bring together the people that are associated with it. Love, Marriage, Commitment, and Divorce are not things to be thought of or handled lightly; and Baumbach does not do that. He takes each element and handles them with care to portray a torn yet healing relationship of people. And Scarlett Johansson and Adam Drivers’ performances in such a film are an emotionally moving masterpiece of the Nth degree.