‘Marriage Story’ depicts disintegration of a couple

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Photo courtesy of imdb.com

Scarlett Johansson (left) and Adam Driver (right) star in "Marriage Story."

Ian Cowie, Staff Writer

The movie “Marriage Story” tells with nuance the story of a divorce, from both sides, not favoring one spouse over the other. 

It’s about a problem that, as in real life, has no clear cut reason or person to place all of the blame on. Marriage Story understands this, and doesn’t sugarcoat the fact that both Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are both, but also neither, at fault. Their son, 8-year old Henry (Azhy Robertston) is caught in the middle, and doesn’t know how to deal with the whirlwind of emotions a changing family causes. 

As the audience is taken through the trials of this couple’s separation, “Marriage Story” never lets us forget that Charlie and Nicole are still people, with good qualities, bad ones, and human flaws, just like anyone else. 

 Charlie is a theatre director in New York, and Nicole is an actor in many of his plays. She joined his company after they met, and she had been a popular actress before. They’d been happy in their marriage for years, but little problems and resentments began boiling under the surface, and for Nicole, they get to be too much. She serves him the divorce papers while he still thinks that they can work things out, and should for the sake of their family. 

What ensues is Nicole moving to California to be with her family, taking Henry with her, while Charlie tries to make sense of what is going on. Small moments of awkwardness, particularly a sad second Halloween, drive home vividly depict how excruciating it is for people to pretend everything is fine, especially for a child’s sake. 

The divorce eventually turns to a messy custody battle, with Nicole and Charlie both lawyering up and being pushed to their respective limits. Even though “Marriage Story” is a movie about divorce, it still wholeheartedly believes in love – for a spouse, for your child – and in the hope that someday, maybe with a different structure, a family can become whole again. 

“Marriage Story” stays firmly committed to portraying this divorce as impartially as it can, and nowhere is this conviction more evident than the first scene of the film. Charlie and Nicole, in a therapy session, are asked to list the things they love about each other. This allows us to see Nicole and Charlie as human beings first, and reinforces for them, and the audience, why they fell in love in the first place. 

Echoes of this scene are heard all throughout the film, and it grounds the audience in the fact that, even in the most intense scenes, Nicole and Charlie are still people, neither reduced to a cruel villain. This humanity and nuance is portrayed so well by Driver and Johansson, whose incredible acting, coupled with gorgeous and intimate cinematography, make this film a journey the audience takes, not simply something to watch.

“Marriage Story” combines a complex and painful, yet familiar story with impeccable acting and filmmaking to produce one of the best movies of 2019. Johansson and Driver shine in their roles, and at the end of the day, the movie shows you that their divorce is all about fighting for and trying to maintain their own humanity.