Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, 2019) is a movie that stands out of the weekly cinema listing for its simplicity. It does not deal with social issues, such as Joker (Todd Philips); it's not part of a female creator wave as Little Women (Greta Gerwig) or The Farewell (Lulu Wang) are; it's not a long-waited cast/director reunion as The Irishman (Martin Scorsese); and it is far from being a CGI heavy investment blockbuster the way Cats (Tom Hooper) and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (J.J. Abrams) are. What holds the audience in a movie theatre for 2 hours and 17 minutes is the empathy the main characters provoke. As the title anticipates, it is just a story about marriage, or better saying, divorce.
Director Noah Baumbach wanted to show that endings don't necessarily need to be seen as failures. On this modern Kramer vs Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979), the key is how this story is told, or in other words, from which point of view. The audience will find plenty of reasons to be on the man's side -- Charlie, played by Adam Driver -- as well as on the woman's -- Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansen. And this is why Marriage Story is so good: it doesn't take sides. Baumbach camerawork switches from one point of view to the other, so you can picture the whole figure. One thing is certain, though: both Charlie and Nicole are bleeding.
Their arguments are vibrantly staged, not necessarily based on real facts, by their two lawyers Laura Dern and Ray Liotta. The supporting role actor's performance magnificently and comically stresses the business fact in marriage. They also put on some pepper to the recipe. It's clear that the script was very well put together, giving significant layers to small details. For instance when Nora (Laura Dern) takes off her shoes and sits close to Nicole, pretending to be her friend and confidant. Her intentions are clear; she's competitive. But she also has a powerful message about what society expects of a mother.
Marriage Story somehow reaches a peak of emotion, of which you don't get any release. If you were ever married, you might feel like crying but you are unable to do it. The film has the potential to be a cult movie, just like The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971), that clearly influenced Noah's filmography.
For those who aren't much into American culture, Marriage Story can turn into a puzzle. The movie contrasts the lifestyles of Los Angeles and New York. The repetitive joke about the space in LA finds its sarcastic meaning when Charlie is left alone in the crowd in a traffic-jammed NY. It is difficult to figure out which metropolis fuels more loneliness. The film also makes reference to theatre and musical culture, by playing two of Stephen Sondheim's songs, "You Could Drive a Person Crazy" and "Being Alive". In fact, now seems to be a good time to pay tribute to the genius of Sondheim, as one of the most iconic West End theatres has just been renamed after him.
In case you are not fond of puzzles, Marriage Story offers funny moments too. The scene in which Charlie physically hurts himself while making a big effort to be seen as the perfect father is hilarious.
Marriage Story is out in cinemas now and it is also on Netflix.