TIFF 2019 Exclusive : Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’ Review

Divorce is ugly and brings out the very worst in people. You wake up one day and realize you can no longer live with this person you once thought you could not live without, and the toxic rage begins to work its dark magic on you.

How could they have ever meant so much to you?

Noah Baumbach drew on the failure of his marriage and subsequent divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh for this tough, brutally honest look at a marriage unravelling. Great writers write about their life experiences and the greatest screenwriters are no different. Baumbach has fashioned a superb, however, wounding drama. He has the courage to show, through flashbacks how the couple fell in love and built a life, and then we watch as they tear it down.

Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) were happy once, could not keep their hands off each other, but now are struggling to tolerate being in the same room with one another. He is a playwright, successful and happy in New York, while she is an actress being offered a high paying job in TV that will make her famous. The trouble begins when Nicole’s offer requires her to live in Los Angeles, which Charlie has no interest in doing. The problems and powder keg in the marriage are set ablaze with the news about her LA move.

Baumbach has driven this road before in the exquisite drama ‘The Squid and the Whale’ (2005) which should have been a major player at the Academy Awards but was passed over. Like that film, this one is like watching a raw nerve being tapped, the agony apparent in the drawn faces of the adults. At times it feels like dramatic Woody Allen or Sidney Lumet, others like Ingmar Bergman, creating life on the screen that is undeniably authentic.

Is Driver not the finest actor in America under forty? If he is not please tell me who is? Like Brando, he has the ability to make every line sound like he is saying it for the first time, every moment natural, every nuance of his performance is perfection. While he has become famous as Kyle in the new Star Wars films and is a formidable villain, he is best in human dramas like this because he is fearless as an actor and will go to any length to find the truth.

What has happened to Scarlett Johansson? What a break out year she is having, breaking from The Avengers franchise, which killed her off in  ‘Endgame’ (2019). She is luminous here, magnificent, bringing to the role the despair and wounds that come with divorce, with falling out of love with someone. Displaying a range previously unseen, the actress stakes her claim for the Academy Award as Best Actress. She might just be nominated twice, as her supporting work in ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is brilliant.

Laura Dern is impressive as a lawyer, when is she not terrific? It is the kind of ballbusting, vicious character she latches onto easily.

There have been great films about divorce before, ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ (1979) the standard by which all are measured. If that is the case, ‘Marriage Story’ might just bump that fine film from its perch.

Expect this to be a major Academy Awards contender.

 

The Cinemawala Rating: 4/5

 

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