Indie filmmaker Noah Baumbach explores love within the confines of separation with divorce drama Marriage Story. The plot follows actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and her theatre director husband Charlie (Adam Driver) as their relationship is falling apart. With their young son to consider, they want an amicable break-up, but once lawyers get involved, the situation becomes messy and emotionally charged.
In the beginning, opening monologues introduce us to an almost idyllic picture of matrimony before the rug is pulled to reveal the raw reality of Nicole and Charlie’s failing relationship. What comes next is a masterclass in storytelling, with the exceptional script effortlessly navigating a gamut of emotion. When legal representation is drafted in, pitch-perfectly portrayed by Laura Dern and Ray Liotta, the camera is intelligently angled to look up at the larger-than-life lawyers pulling the strings of the proceedings. This subtle technique has the desired effect and emphasises the cynical dirtiness of the system as it looms over the injured parties.
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver are already held in high regard, and this is arguably the best they’ve ever been. Nicole and Charlie are presented as very real people, both having made mistakes, there’s no immediate side-taking in the couple’s complicated battle. Their rounded performances convey great warmth but also ice-cold bitterness, and the complexities culminate in a genuinely jaw dropping stand-off scene when the feuding pair are at the end of their wits.
Marriage Story is an incredibly well told, heart-breaking tale of two distraught lovers. Even though Baumbach’s wonderfully sharp narrative can have you grinning from ear to ear in one moment then choking back the tears the next, the melancholy never feels manipulative. It might devastate your faith in the strongest of partnerships, but it’s a thrill to see Johansson and Driver at the very top of their game.