MARRIAGE STORY SPEC D: Noah Baumbach. U.S. 136 min. Sep 13, 6 pm, Princess of Wales Sep 14, 2:45 pm, Princess of Wales. Rating: NNNNN
I just have to accept that once every decade. Noah Baumbach will rip my heart out, eat it in front of me and make me watch. He did it with The Squid And The Whale in 2005, and he does it again in Marriage Story, a study of a dissolving couple whose attempt at an amicable separation becomes quietly, horrifically disastrous.
The Squid And The Whale was based on his own parents’ divorce, and Baumbach seems to be doing something similarly semi-autobiographical here. Charlie (Adam Driver) is a respected New York theatre director and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is both a film actor and the daughter of a TV star, just like Baumbach’s former partner Jennifer Jason Leigh.
That’s the foundation, but these characters are their own people they’ve worked together for a decade (Baumbach and Leigh made just one film together, Margot At The Wedding), and they have a young son (Juliet, Naked’s Azhy Robertson) whom they’re trying very hard to protect from the fallout of their divorce. But Nicole takes a gig in Los Angeles while Charlie stays behind to work in New York, lawyers get involved, and hasty decisions become emotional hand grenades waiting to explode at the worst possible time.
Driver and Johansson are both remarkable at showing us the separate but mirrored struggles Charlie and Nicole endure as they figure out who they are to one another, and Baumbach captures the tiny, personal horror of understanding that someone you currently loathe will never fully leave your life.
There’s a precision and an empathy in every moment that makes the specific feel universal Baumbach is also open to the little absurdities in his characters’ worlds, like the way the narcissistic buzz of Charlie’s theatre company in New York mirrors the inane chatter in Nicole’s L.A. sphere.
And when things get serious, he sits back and lets his actors do whatever they need to do, and it’s devastating. This is one of the best movies of the year, and it’s a damn shame most people will see it on Netflix. It needs to be experienced in the dark, with a crowd, all of us sniffling – or holding our breath – together.
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