Marriage Story

Noah's Wisdom


06 December 2019| No Comments on Marriage Story     by Sean Chavel


You get old enough you reflect on the things in life that slipped away, namely youth. You can look back and think, I got married too hastily. I had a kid too hastily. All of this without thinking what directional impact it could take your life, and that if it doesn’t work, it’s hard to wriggle out of it. 

Adam Driver’s Charlie happened to have firm control over his life, and was happy with every result. He thinks wonders of his partner. But maybe sometimes in the back of his mind he figures that she will never be totally happy since she’s fickle. He’s a director of a New York theater company and has a loyal crew and troupe of actors under his wing, including his actress wife, but day to day life is rosy. 

Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole was a one-time rising movie star stemming from a hit teen party movie, but she was drawn by a man who would take her from Los Angeles to New York, and become a stage actress transplant. She was attracted to a man who had firm direction over life, but it dawned on her that all decisions were not just co-dependent but sacrificial. Every move in life hung on what served her husband’s theater company. She craved growth. Would she ever direct a play? Would she ever be the focus on a movie set?

Marriage Story opens with quite a special montage of all the thriving, joyful times they have as a married couple. Writer-director Noah Baumbach eventually slows it all down with longer lived-in scenes; almost all of them fastidious in their observation and terrific. What compellingly draws me in is the fact Charlie is versatile at everything thrown at him in life except is ill-suited to deal with divorce, it’s the one thing he can’t be hunky dory about. 

The length of the movie, at 136 minutes, suggests perhaps Baumbach wanted a marriage and divorce tale that would throw in the kitchen sink. He wants to cover everything, even if it curbs flow. I still think the hilariously profane and blithe yet brilliant “The Squid and the Whale” is Baumbach’s best film.

Yet you could be a quarter in, or halfway thru, and a deceptively simple scene can turn extraordinary. Laura Dern, coming in like a mother / ballbuster / crusader all in one, is the divorce attorney Nora that gets Nicole to expunge every road block in their marriage. So while I had sided on Charlie’s side early, I started to see the other side of the picture.

The picture of divorce is sweetened by Driver’s insistence that all of the marital finality can proceed without lawyers’ interference, and he’s on the stairwell of his theater company when a badgering call comes from Nora with a threat to file a request for default judgment against him. What’s that? Well, if Charlie and Nicole share a child together, then not meeting the deadline will get scary. Driver needs an a**hole lawyer just to measure up in this fight.

Charlie does a lot of little things in attempt to fix each problem, not acquiring the foresight of what could happen in the bigger picture. At one point a court-appointed family evaluator walks into the picture to record parenting skills, and while you can predict how the film will judge sex roles in parenting with all the typical Psych 101 points you’ve heard before, you can’t possibly guess how a key chain knife can disrupt a “pleasant” home life scene and turn it into something sadly hilarious.

Whether it’s been the stirring and still resonant “Kramer vs. Kramer” or the uproariously vicious “The War of the Roses” or the bleak “Revolutionary Road” or the superlative aforementioned “The Squid and the Whale” by Baumbach, or to me two overrated titles that had unbearable shrillness in “Shoot the Moon” or the terminally insufferable “Scenes from a Marriage,” divorce movies usually have that one rage spat between the leads, and so I’ve honestly tired of it, but hell if Driver and Johansson don’t share a scene that leaps off the screen and rips out your heart and makes it feel like the most important reckoning as to why some good-looking marriages end up not working. 

Baumbach is no dummy, though, he knows how to locate everyday happy moments even in a tale of dissolution. He restores some tenderness by the end, with much true life recognition and pathos. Looking back, there’s another half dozen dialogues in this movie that slaps you silly with their honesty. Now is Marriage Story short on technical bravado? It doesn’t have to be this dervish camera spectacle that competes with P.T. Anderson or Scorsese… but there is that one Bergman-esque “Persona” close-up shot of the two of them signing papers of finality. We feel the unshakable residue of these people; Driver and Johansson make them impossible to forget.

136 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Scenes from a Marriage” (1973, Sweden); “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979); “Shoot the Moon” (1982); “The Squid and the Whale” (2005).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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