It’s a Baumbachian decade, get used to it. Noah Baumbach began making films in the mid ’90s, but it’s only with Greenberg (2010) and Frances Ha (2012) — coinciding with his breakup with Jennifer Jason Leigh — that he gained momentum.
Marriage Story is Baumbach’s most obvious success. It’s been buzzed about as an Oscar contender for months and on Monday, as expected, it was showered with Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture. Ostensibly about a messy divorce, Marriage Story is the peak of Baumbach’s art of imbroglio.
In Marriage Story Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver excel as a couple caught in the storm of a pathetic and weirdly beautiful separation.
As always with Baumbach, it’s about the tough process of losing unity. Marriage Story is a kind of “shot reverse shot” of 2 hours and 17 minutes, beginning with something that sounds like marriage vows (but *THIS IS NOT A SPOILER* we learn quite early in the movie that it’s an assignment from a divorce mediator) and an ugly judicial squabbling. And, eventually, a slow disaffection.
As usual, there are two sides to the story; Nicole’s story (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie’s story (Adam Driver). And a son, sitting uncomfortably in between. This impossible symmetry is illustrated throughout the movie by the costumes they both picked for Halloween.
She is a pop star from the Sgt. Pepper era. He is the Invisible Man. They have nothing to do with each other anymore, not even a memory of what united them in the first place. Nothing remains but the cold and uncomfortable. How could they ever have expected to know each other?
Marriage Story also deals with the complex balance between independence and togetherness within an artistic couple. It looks like Charlie, theatre director, is doing the biennial and Nicole, former teenage movie star, isn’t. This feeling of incompleteness makes Marriage Story a beautiful movie about equity in relationships, which — surprise — can be only achieved with its share of concessions, asymmetries, and missed opportunities.
Marriage Story is funny and sad, highly serious, and utterly banal. With Baumbach, you never know. Mumblecore film at its heart, reminiscent of Woody Allen’s universe (without the hyper-intellectualism and the snobbery), Marriage Story will grab you and not let go.
Stream it on Netflix from December 6th.