I watched Marriage Story for the first time back in October at the London Film Festival. It was an early morning screening on my first full day there, so I was as awake as I was going to be for an 8 am showing. I’d heard the buzz about it. Not as much as there is now considering it is nominated for countless awards for its acting and screenwriting. Still, the buzz was there, but I was sceptical.
I was only sceptical because the director and writer, Noah Baumbach’s last film hadn’t been my first favourite. The film follows the trials and tribulations of a divorcing couple played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. The process becomes more and more strenuous due to the addition of lawyers and family interference, so the film looks at the effect it has on their emotional state and their relationship as parents.
The most immediate difference with Marriage Story is just how deeply personal it is to him. You can sense that in the writing where every emotion and feeling has this pin-point accuracy to it. It goes to show just how much of an effect this film can have on someone when you can feel the reality of something you, personally, have never experienced.
It is almost as if ‘The Squid and The Whale’, a previous Baumbach film, was from the perspective of parents. It feels like a much more adult and emotional sequel to that. You can tell they’re by the same people but this one comes from a filmmaker with more notches and experience in his belt.
Baumbach is probably one of the people who should be in the space that Todd Phillips has taken in ‘Best Director’ list. The way he directs a lot of the critical scenes, in particular, the “I wish you were dead” fight that has been going around the internet in meme form for some time now.
He gets a lot out of his actors, Driver and Johansson are both easily my favourite performances of the year. It is a shame they will not win the Oscars, that is currently set in stone for Joaquin Phoenix and Renee Zellweger, but they should. The range and the presence on the screen are incredible from both and draw you into the arguments.
They do so much with the script from Baumbach. Time does not feel equally spaced between the two, and I thought it was leaning into showcase Adam Driver much more, that or he is much more commanding on the screen and you feel that he is there more. Laura Dern has also clearly let her presence be known as she is now on track to win herself an Oscar this year too. She plays Johansson’s lawyer in the film and while not a complete stand-out, she is excellent, and it is a well-deserved win – when it eventually comes.
The film has this lovely warm aesthetic to it, clearly shot on actual celluloid film on location in Los Angeles. This beautiful backdrop is the perfect contrast to the events on screen. I was thankful to see this at the Dolby Cinema at the Odeon in London. It is a film you will want to immerse yourself in despite the fact you may come out an emotional wreck by the end of it.
It will at least have a small effect on you. It is quite a draining film to watch but well worth the experience. It was one of my favourites of 2019 by far, and I only wish its award season had gone slightly better.