Movie review: Netflix’s ‘Marriage Story’ is a feel-good divorce film


Carmen Burkholder

“Marriage Story” is, in the simplest terms, a gut-wrenching, joy-inducing divorce movie.

Filmmaker Noah Baumbach is not known for writing happy relationship pieces, with most of his works centering around divorce and unhealthy or abusive partnerships. Some of his previous films, including “The Squid and The Whale” and “Frances Ha,” focus on the pettiness that the end of a relationship typically brings.

The “Marriage Story” stars Adam Driver as Charlie and Scarlet Johansson as Nicole. They’re an unhappily married couple who learns to respect and care for each other, despite emotional turmoil concerning their child Henry, played by Azhy Robertson. It earned an Academy Award nomination this year for best picture.

Baumbach went through his own divorce in 2013 with actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, which clearly has influenced the films he creates. His experience with marital failure has led him to be able to accurately portray the emotional toll of separation. The movie also has been praised for its honest look at the complications of divorces involving children.

“Marriage Story” shows the difficult process of trying to stay level headed when life is crumbling. Charlie and Nicole go through competing periods of repulsion and affection throughout the entire film. With cutthroat lawyers coming and going throughout the movie, it’s made clear to viewers the challenges that arise when trying to make divorce into black-and-white sides with no gray areas in between.

Even though the movie only lasts about 2 hours and 15 minutes, I found
it relatively hard to get through. The plot is fairly slow moving, with endless meetings with lawyers and ineffective discussions about where Henry is going to live. Perhaps Baumbach was trying to make a commentary on the seemingly endless struggles and finances that a divorce can require? The end of Charlie and Nicole’s high-profile divorce is not glamorized, and the sometimes monotonous nature of the film demonstrates how the ex-partners feel trapped by their choices.

Scenes in the film are expertly shot and aesthetically pleasing. The colors and angles in each shot do a nice job depicting emotion. In a movie like “Marriage Story,” being able to convey tone is important to connect the audience to the plot.

There was only one real scene in the movie where Charlie and Nicole bring up issues within their marriage, including their similarities to their parents and a lacking sex life that are not pursued further as the film progresses. This is the biggest pitfall of the movie; the fact that many of the important details about why the couple is splitting in the first place are left unexplained.

Despite this issue, “Marriage Story” is a beautifully shot movie that can bring attention and understanding to the chaos caused by divorce. It definitely had its lulls, but I would recommend this movie to anyone who might be curious about it.

You can find “Marriage Story” on Netflix to watch for yourself. It’s rated R for language and sexual references.