Is anyone better at capturing the subtleties – and the absurdities – of upper-middle class people’s lives than Noah Baumbach? After seeing Marriage Story, I think not. Loosely based on Baumbach’s own divorce, Marriage Story is an epic two-hander about Charlie, a New York-based theatre director (Adam Driver), and Nicole (Scarlett Johannson), a New York theatre actress who’s just landed a TV pilot in LA. Basically, this film is Kramer Vs Kramer for the millennial generation, except with more heart.
Marriage Story’s clever script revels in the complexities of divorce, with the former couple sparring about custody of their son through overpaid lawyers one minute, then helping each other with household emergencies in the next. The dialogue is realistic yet articulate, with both Driver and Johannson delivering riveting monologues about their relationship. Both actors ultimately produce compelling performances, managing to be simultaneously likable and detestable. The duo make the audience understand why someone would fall in love with their characters, but one also appreciates why someone might fall out of love with them, as well. In short, they make Nicole and Charlie feel like real people.
Admittedly, Marriage Story is a privileged story. The characters nearly go broke dissolving their union, but most people don’t have access to the $25,000 retainer Charlie reluctantly pays his attorney, played by a hilarious Ray Liotta. It’s a film about the plight of well-off, attractive white people, but an outstanding script and cast make it the most interesting divorce movie one could produce about privileged New Yorkers.