Marriage Story Movie Review
The feel-good movie of the year by a country mile, Marriage Story is the heartwarming tale of two lovers who marry, have children, and then suffer through a bitter divorce that shatters their friendship, finances, and emotional stability until they are rotten cores of their former selves.
A movie that divorce lawyers everywhere will likely jerk off to on a regular basis, Marriage Story features staggeringly great performances by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, two characters who decay before your eyes, their emotions bleeding from every stress-worn wrinkle, rage and sadness dripping from every nuanced moment.
Driver is especially excellent, if only because more of the movie is told from his character’s perspective and thus is the emotional core of the movie. His transformation from bewildered husband to, ultimately, a sopping mess flopped in the fetal position on the floor of an empty apartment, is stunning to watch, and he somehow overshadows one of the best performances of Johansson’s career to date.
The movie, which has received rave reviews, is good but less stunning.
My wife lost interest after 20 minutes, citing her dislike of both characters and an unwillingness to sit through two hours of depressing-as-hell real-life shit (although suspiciously she considered watching it again for ideas after I informed her I was going to go watch Little Women without her). Her dislike of the characters of course does not necessarily correlate to film quality, but as grounded and believable as the film is, the two leads are sort of hard to relate to, since both are of course in the film/theater industry and by definition a little different and weirder than the rest of us.
The movie understandably is at least inspired by writer/director Noah Baumbach’s own circumstances, but there is something slightly tedious about filmmakers writing about actors and directors. This is a stupid criticism, but the decisions the two character makes are in part informed by their odd, niche careers, and in turn do make both somewhat unlikable.
More so, as great as the performances are, as well written and commanding as Baumbach’s directing is, Marriage Story doesn’t grab you by the balls in the way you’d expect. It’s good, but far from sizzling, its sum lesser than its parts. The most powerful scene—hell, it’s downright explosive—has Johansson and Driver talking civilly enough at first only for the conversation to quickly spiral into a shouting match that leave both breathless; it’s tragically acted, beautifully scripted, and spellbindingly memorable. While the rest of the movie can’t be expected to be as emotionally charged—nor should it be, as its power derives from its unassuming and innocent beginnings—very little of the rest of the movie captivates or draws you in the same way.
Marriage Story is a superbly made and powerfully acted drama, but despite all its merits, it falls short of greatness. Even still, it’s the most depressing feel-good movie of the year. For what that’s worth.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.