Saturday, December 7, 2019

Marriage Story, 2019 - ★★★★★

Wow, this was a powerful film and very personal for me. As someone going through aftershocks from divorce and custody disputes, this felt very familiar at times. Noah Baumbach delivers a raw and gritty look at a real marriage falling apart before our eyes played out by two brilliant performances in Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. The two play two aspiring thespians. Nicole (Johansson) is a film actor turned Broadway art-house actor who decided moving to LA to be in a hit TV show was important for her career. Charlie (Driver) is a Broadway director who loves the pulse of New York City and runs a theater company there. Nicole's desire to be in LA pulls herself and her child Henry (Azhy Robertson) to relocate there with Nicole's Mom (Julie Hagerty).

What plays out through the bulk of the film is the back and forth between not only Charlie and Nicole but the dynamics of legal battling between Laura Dern (Nicole's attorney) and Alan Alda / Ray Liotta (Charlie's council). I fell like I've already given away too many plot details, but the draw of this film is the amazing performances by Johansson, Driver and Dern in particular. ScarJo has never been better. There is a scene early on that just focuses on her telling her marriage story to Dern in a raw uncut take where you can't take your eyes off her. She's so believable and makes you sympathetic to her plight even as I tended to side with the father in this situation. Driver is really really good as Charlie and he comes across as a genuine dad who loves his son but also loves his craft. The scene of him singing Stephen Sondheim near the end is a culmination of so much emotion throughout the film.

I don't believe I've ever really seen a Baumback film before and now I feel I should go and watch some of his earlier work. What he does here is lets his actors shine through unfiltered scenes that feel so real and natural. His takes are just long enough to let the emotion come out and bring us in as first-hand witnesses to this dispute. This movie is a masterpiece and only has a fault in the casting/writing of the child in the movie. Henry comes across as such an annoying / limited kids for an 8 year old. There is literally a scene where he's learning to read the word "iron" at age 9. He has a lot of pointless lines and he just isn't as real/genuine as the child in Kramer vs Kramer. Still, all the other performances are so good that they overshadow this small drawback. I haven't seen Judy yet, but I find it hard to believe there will be a better acting performance than what ScarJo delivers in this movie.

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