Marriage Story Review (Seen at the Chicago International Film Festival)


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When it comes to films by Noah Baumbach, he has a niche for making films that are based on his own life and challenging experiences. He did so with The Squid and the Whale (2005), a film that is based on his experience during his youth when his parents divorced. He made the film dark with many moments of tension and numerous backstories to demonstrate the difficult family relationships. Marriage Story gears on divorce as well, however, it has many moments that are touching without being too depressing. That is why I found Marriage Story to be faithful in a heartfelt way despite the sad subject of separation.

Marriage Story focuses on the lives of Nicole and Charlie (Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver), a married couple with a young son who both work in the entertainment industry and are on the verge of breaking up. However, their goal is to stay together and work as a team, despite all the challenging obstacles. Nicole is a TV actor and wants to remain in California where all her connections that provide her career opportunities for TV are based. Charlie is a theater director in New York that wants to remain around the New York area to be able to direct and write plays. The distance between California and New York poses a challenge for them and their young son as they struggle to figure out how custody or remaining positive is even possible.

Marriage Story is based on the life of Noah Baumbach and his previous relationship with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. If viewers know the actors or their backgrounds, then Marriage Story will make sense because they can relate to their struggles. In real-life Baumbach and Leigh both have ambitious careers which created challenges. Due to their young son, however, they wanted to make it an amicable process. In the movie, Nicole and Charlie face a big problem with the laws in California and New York.  Charlie is in a bind as he tries to determine which state to be a resident of and where his lawyer should be from. This creates some ugly scenarios for a brief time.

Even though the concept of Marriage Story is sad, it has many positive elements. The film links back to various flashbacks of the good times between Nicole and Adam, and even in the rough times they talk about the qualities they like in each other. There is an instance where a conflict does get out of hand and makes them break out in tears.  Still, it’s not so much because of their resentment of each other, it’s because they come to realize how hard it is to come to an agreement based upon their own choices. The movie is like a landscape of moments which involve happiness, some tension, a twist in judgment, and then an upsetting moment.

Overall, I loved Marriage Story, because it is a film that shows how important it is to be together as a family (even in hard times). This is probably the best of Baumbach, and I look forward to other films by him. This one will be on Netflix, but I believe it to be even better on the big screen.  Some theaters will also be playing it in 35 MM film. Experience the life of Baumbach in this dark, yet uplifting drama. Four stars.


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