London Film Festival 2019: Marriage Story

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Divorce has been depicted many times onscreen, as it’s one of those difficult realities about adult relationships. There’s still a lot of stigma around the breakdown of a marriage, but Marriage Story deals with the topic in a very raw and unique way.

The film follows Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) as they’re going through the turbulent divorce period. The couple share a young son Henry, who naturally causes complications for the two when it comes to custodial agreements.

Marriage Story opens with two gorgeous monologues about what the two characters love about each other, both of which are enough to make you cry a mere few minutes into the film. This contrasts very well with the present day, where they’re both struggling to make their marriage work.

It would have been very easy for Noah Baumbach to encourage the audience to pick sides, leaving them to subconsciously ‘root’ for either party to do well in the scenario. But remarkably that’s not the case, as it’s a very unbiased film that lays everything out on the table for us to see. Each messy, complicated detail is shown to us, and we end up sympathising with both.

 

One thing I really enjoyed about Marriage Story is the way Baumbach criticises some of the ridiculousness associated with divorce, especially when it comes to legal battles. Nicole reluctantly turns to ruthless lawyer Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), who is honest about the lies that have to be told in order to get through this.

Dern’s performance is hilarious but also highlights some of the inequalities and utterly baffling scenarios that happen when picking up a legal case. I wasn’t aware of any of them so it was quite a shock.

Watching the film is excruciating in places, but that’s a compliment on how raw and honest it is. It seems wrong for Charlie and Nicole to have to say and do certain things, all dictated by their respective lawyers. A clean break just isn’t possible when a child is involved.

It becomes even more complicated for the couple when Nicole decides to move back to Los Angeles, 2,789 miles away from New York City where she and Charlie used to reside. This creates a very literal distance between them, and causes problems with the battle for custody and Henry’s wellbeing.

Whilst there are many scenes which will reduce you to tears, Marriage Story has some comedic elements to lighten the mood, especially when it comes to Nicole’s family and how they react to the news of the divorce.

The two central performances in Marriage Story really are exceptional, and you become invested in the lives of people you don’t even know. One dramatic scene between Charlie and Nicole in particular had me openly sobbing, as it was full of contempt instead of love. Many of us can react to that exchange in a failing relationship, and it hurts.

If you want a very honest look at what it’s like to go through a divorce, then Marriage Story is just that. This isn’t the kind of film that sugarcoats anything and instead takes its audience on an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish.

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