Marriage Story review – a meaningful adult drama that deserves to be seen

Marriage Story Review

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta. Directed by Noah Baumbach.

This may be an Oscar season with more than one Netflix film in the running since Scorsese’s The Irishman is getting rave reviews and now indie-darling Noah Baumbach has taken to Netflix for his new film.

Following theatre director Charlie and actress Nicole as they go through a divorce, Marriage Story looks at how they are navigate the world according to what is expected of them and their own feelings.

Baumbach has in the fast had a habit of making rather annoying indie film – Greenberg for example is unbearable – but much like his 2005 effort The Squid and the Whale this has the smack of authenticity. The former film was drawn from Baumbach’s own experience of his parents going through a divorce when he was younger, while Marriage Story is very much about his own experience getting divorced from his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh.

To make a film about divorce is to sit into the camp of Kramer vs Kramer, and that is not company to be taken lightly; even the poster alludes to the film, which saw Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep go at it on screen over custody of their child, but Marriage Story has a lightness of touch despite heavy moments.

Baumbach’s writing isn’t spiteful, nor is his directing, in this we begin with a fantasy exposition of what Nicole loves and about Charlie and what Charlie loves about Nicole only to find out we’re in mediation for couples. It sets the scene perfectly, we see them through each others eyes, and while the first half of the film is more about Nicole, the second begins to follow Charlie but never losing sympathy or compassion for either camp.


Neither are entirely good or entirely bad as human or a parent – Charlie is shown to be a little distant and easily frustrated while Nicole is too eager to please, and reward without good reason. That the two remain likeable and you are invested in their lives considering one was a former teen actress who famously showed her breasts in her first film and the other is a fairly obsessive theatre director who’s a little up himself is in no small part to Baumbach’s casting.

Both Adam Driver as Charlie and Scarlett Johansson as Nicole are superb. Johansson’s performance almost calls to mind her turn in Lost in Translation and there’s none of the vanity of her more recent Hollywood work has had, there’s the same commitment to the film that she had in the fantastic Under the Skin, while Driver continues to be one of the best talents currently working in cinema, it interesting that this drops on Netflix a week or so before The Rise of Skywalker sees him on blockbusting form.

Around them Baumbach sets the stage of a comedy-drama where there are laughs, or rather, wry smiles at the little oddities of life and how things can be dramatic without being movie-level. The divorce lawyers are all shown to be not as caring as they say – Laura Dern gets the juiciest of the three lawyers as Nicole’s win the fight type who appears to have her own agenda and two-faced nature to her that Dern absolutely excels at, while Alan Alda is a more dowjon-to-earth one that can’t adequately explain the bureaucracy that goes into a divorce. Ray Liotta is particularly good as a smarmy-dirty fighter who wears the sharp suit to show he’s essentially the devil.

It’s an adult drama and has moments of great catharsis – not least an argument that really hits home with what divorce does to two people, and while there is some moments that aren’t entirely needed – Adam Driver sings an entire broadway showtune for no real reason, the film doesn’t feel self-indulgent, but rather it wants to show you that adults are both rational and irrational when it comes to emotion.

That’s not to say there is out-and-out laughs, it’s very funny for example when a deadpan slightly boring observer comes in to watch how Charlie acts with his son Henry, and the confusion that goes with serving someone papers is played for laughs also.

Randy Newman’s score is so very Randy Newman you might think your Amazon Alexa is playing the Toy Story soundtrack by mistake, and at times the overly chirpy tone of his music seems at odds with what is happening. Intentional or not it grates at times.

But even with that, the film is a drama for adults that might very well mean more to someone who has gone through the divorce or were themselves children of such a thing, although even without that it’s still a fantastic work that deserves to be seen and appreciated and come awards season it might be served a few envelopes of it’s own.

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Paul Klein

Paul is Film & Media Editor @ No Majesty. Paul is a Film Studies Graduate from London, and former writer at The Metropolist.