Marriage Story made me happy and sad, and I’m not talking about what happened in the film. One on hand, I was glad that Netflix were taking on a film that was actually good, great even. Director Noah Baumbach was allowed the creative freedom to make a spectacular film, with truly some of the best acting you could ever hope to see. Seriously, this film really lives up to the hype and you should see it as soon as you can. But it made me think, why is this film on Netflix? And the conclusion I came to is because realistically, people wouldn’t really go and see it in cinemas, and that sucks. Look at what’s on at the Odeon Exeter near me today: Jumanji 2, The Gentlemen and Star Wars. The fact is, people don’t go and watch these small arthouse films anymore, they can’t be bothered. And although in the end it’s great because Netflix is giving the films a new platform, it sucks that people’s attention spans are too short to go and see a film like this in the cinema. As Scorcese said himself:
“Fine, go and it’s an event and it’s great to go to an event like an amusement park, but don’t crowd out Greta Gerwig and don’t crowd out Paul Thomas Anderson and Noah Baumbach and those people, just don’t, in terms of theatres.”
He quite literally dragged Baumbach into his crusade, and I think a lot of what he said is true. His essay for the New York Times is essential if you disagree (like I did initially) with what he said. Read it here. And like Scorcese’s The Irishman (which I did not like, by the way), it’s sad that it needed Netflix to get made.
Ignoring all of that noise, let’s just talk about the film It’s really, really good. Adam Driver gives a career-defining performance, and Scarlett Johansson is not far behind. The script and the actors are what’s really on show here, and the film does a lot to accentuate those elements. Everything from the score to the shot composition seems intended for you to feel the performances, and it does that masterfully. I really can’t praise Adam Driver enough, and I was shocked that he lost the Golden Globe to Joaquin Phoenix, that was a prime example of “more” acting somehow being seen as better than a subtle, nuanced, perfect performance. He almost says more in his silences than his words, and what I loved about both his and Johansson’s performances is that while their characters were by no means perfect people, they were both likeable, sympathetic and had tonnes of heart. It’s an emotional one.
A lesser film would have had huge rows, bitter fights and a violent break-up. Marriage Story drops us in the awkward aftermath where everything is just starting to get sorted. The separation is done, and the divorce is becoming finalised. In fact, there’s only really one ‘big’ scene in the whole film, and it has a long, slow build up to it that makes it feel earned, not cheap. That scene in particular is remarkable; horrible to watch but both actors just do such an incredible job. The injections of awkward humour help create two sympathetic characters, and Baumbach gives us around the same amount of time with each character, which helps to stave off any preference for either one.
There’s actually some interesting camera work in this film too. Nothing really exciting, but one moment sticks out for me – a long slow zoom on Scarlett Johansson’s character’s face as she is explaining her story to her lawyer. The film is full of subtlety, and it’s fantastic. There’s not really a huge amount to say about it if I’m honest. It’s by no means life-changing, but it’s certainly every bit as good as all the reviews suggest. The acting alone is worth watching this for. The runtime is slightly long, but it just about manages it. I don’t have many complaints. Definitely worth watching.
Best Scene: The big argument
Best Character: Nicole’s sister or mum
Best Actor/Actress: Adam Driver
Best Quote: “You’re f**king insane! And you’re f**king winning!” – Charlie