A Magnificent Film
Noah Baumbach has written and directed Marriage Story about two people falling out of love and on their way to a divorce. Caught in the middle is a young son whom they both love dearly. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play Nicole and Charlie, two theatrical people who once shared a love of theater and their life together In New York. Nicole had gotten some notoriety early in life starring in a movie, and she helped to get Charlie’s little theater going using her new-found fame. Charlie is a director whose little New York theater company means the world to him.
Nicole gave up her movie career ten years ago to become absorbed in Charlie’s theater world. They got married and had a son named Henry (Azhy Robertson). After playing second-fiddle to Charlie’s total absorption in the theater company, Nicole wants to break away and maybe take care of her own artistic needs. She signs for a TV show in Hollywood and thins she might work herself into the Tinsel Town parade once again.
Nicole wants a divorce and temporarily moves in with her mother. Giving a great turn as a ditzy, hare-brained woman, Julie Hagerty reminds us how funny she was in Airplane. She’s as scattered as Nicole is intense. Hagerty gives us a preview of the supporting cast we are about to see and what a terrific company they make to give this film the best ensemble group on film this year.
When Nicole goes to see a lawyer, we see acting at its most incredible as Johansson performs her now-famous monologue scene. With Baumbach’s camera steadily on her face, the scene runs in one long take without a stop. Johansson has pages of dialogue, but she never misses a word while explaining her situation to Laura Dern, who plays her lawyer Nora Fanshaw. Dern, another consummate actress, plays the lawyer as a no-nonsense, breezy gal who knows her chops. It’s a smart role for which she could be in the running for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® nomination. But the Best Actress accolades go directly to Johansson in this remarkable scene. How she handles all that dialogue, completes all the emotions required, and never misses a word is one of those rare movie miracles.
Nicole wants custody of little Henry in Hollywood, and Charlie wants him to stay in New York. In the entanglement that describes most child custody divorces, the lawyers become a necessary evil. At first Charlie engages grandfather-like Bert Spitz, played by an affable Alan Alda. But he doesn’t exert enough viciousness needed to get what Charlie wants. He then hires pitbull-like lawyer Jay, played sensationally by Ray Liotta. He’s a slick, loud-mouth type who bulldozes his way through court to get his client what he wants and needs. His performance might also deserve a Best Supporting Actor nod from the Academy.
In one final, decisive scene between Nicole and Charlie in his bare Hollywood apartment, we see the culmination of all director/ writer Baumbach encompassed in his story. All the hate, anger, frustration and love spews out of both Driver and Johansson. It’s a scene that rips our heart out and turns both the actors and you into a blubbering pile of mush. One of the most intense and emotional scenes ever seen on film, it is certain to be a career-making moment for both actors.
Baumbach has written an emotional story that will touch many people who have gone through contentious divorces as well as those of us who are sympathetic to two lovely people who have been gravely hurt and don’t really deserve the trauma that has befallen them. It’s a magnificent film with a great cast.
(Released by Netflix and rated “R” for language throughout and sexual references.)