Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Welcome back to Monday Movie Madness! Today, we’re taking a look at Noah Baumbach’s 2019 Netflix film Marriage Story, starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.

In a twist of fate, I’m writing to you today from western Pennsylvania, visiting a sick relative of my boyfriend’s. I’ll be back in Massachusetts later today, and I’ll do all I can to get at least one Chef’s Table post out for you foodies today! But for now, let’s turn to Marriage Story.

This review contains spoilers, but…

… as I said last week in the case of The Handmaid’s Tale (the novel), Marriage Story is a type of movie that can’t really be spoiled. I can state the plot to you in one simple sentence, but the beauty is in the little intricacies and in the excellent deliveries of the lead actor and actress. Both stun in this film. Kudos to casting and excellent film-writing that allows the players to shine.

Marriage Story is, as its title suggests, a story about marriage. More aptly, it’s a story about how one marriage, that between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), crumbles.

As I watched the film unfold, and as it became clearer and clear that Charlie and Nicole still deeply loved each other, the movie began to remind me of one of my favorite films, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Although Eternal Sunshine borders on sci-fi and features the bizarre rather than the mundane, both of these films depict the disintegration of relationships under the combined weight of two forces: bad communication and compatibility issues. And in both films, it seems that these problems can’t outweigh love. At the end of Eternal Sunshine (which you should watch, if you haven’t — it’s a romantic movie that even people who detest romantic movies, like me, can watch), we’re rooting for Joel and Clementine. Just like how at the end of Marriage Story we’re rooting for Charlie and Nicole.

Or at least I was.

The best movies…

I believe that the best movies force us to connect their plots to our life experiences. In that, Marriage Story succeeds. I found myself reflecting on my first (and only failed) relationship. My partner in that relationship and I had loved each other, enough to stay together nearly four years. But the relationship suffered from bad communication and a perceived lack of compatibility.

The tale Marriage Story spins is an old one indeed, and one that’s bound to resonate with anyone who’s been in a relationship that’s breaking down or witnessed the breakdown of one. That’s to say, almost anyone who’s lived. If you haven’t witnessed those things… Let it be known that the breakdown of a relationship is one of the most beautiful, ugly, wonderful, terrible, utterly paradoxical things in life. You loved this person once and they loved you. You lived for each other, once upon a time. But now you might profess to hate them. You might cheat on them, or they might cheat on you. You might forgive each other, and you might stay friends. Or you might never see each other’s faces again.

Marriage Story will make you think about life and love.

A call to witness

Marriage Story also calls its audience to witness. It’s a movie about witness in a strong way. What is witness? To watch another person’s suffering or their joy and to see and to listen. The audience, inevitably, sees things Charlie and Nicole can’t, just as you might see something about the relationship between two of your friends that they, the ones trapped inside, can’t.

I was reminded of a conversation my then-boyfriend and I had with my brother a few days before we broke up. My brother spoke about how good we were together. How I stretched my now-ex’s imagination while he kept me on the ground. After we broke up, I kept thinking about it. And once I was outside the stifling confines of that relationship, I could see what my brother had been saying. We had been good together, for exactly those reasons. But attentions had wavered, and I’d kept pushing for a perfect partner, the perfect partner, which meant that inevitably I called him to change. I learned a lesson. Sometimes you can’t change a person. Sometimes you shouldn’t.

In Marriage Story, Charlie and Nicole are both artists. He directs plays, and she plays the lead role in most of his plays. We, the viewers, see how much they’ve helped each other as artists. Their work has flowered. But Nicole feels trapped and lost. In her eyes, she’s devoted a decade of her life to acting in Charlie’s plays, to being his wife and mother to his child. She, like many of us may feel tempted to do when confronted by the end of a relationship, overwrites her former feelings with ones from now. Charlie, on the other hand, doesn’t — at least not during the time we see him onscreen. But we know he cheated, and so does Nicole.

The reality of Marriage Story

It’s a dizzying reality and a reminder that you never really know what’s going on in someone’s marriage. Outwardly, the other members of Charlie’s theater company — besides Marianne, the recipient of Charlie’s illicit affections — think Charlie and Nicole will get back together. It’s always been Charlie and Nicole, Nicole and Charlie. How could it be any different?

Her complaints: he’s self-absorbed. He doesn’t listen to her. He only cares about himself and his work. He’s a narcissist.

His feelings: those “promises” he made about trading New York for LA? They weren’t promises, they were discussions. Like whether or not to move the ottoman in the living room. And he spent his twenties chained to one woman, because he loved her, when he could’ve been living it up. He could’ve cheated sooner! But he didn’t.

That sum-up might make you think Charlie’s the asshole here, but watch the movie. Nicole, at best, deludes herself throughout. At worst, she’s batshit crazy and might as well be a narcissist herself. But in the end, Marriage story has us believe that neither Charlie nor Nicole is a bad person. In divorce, as one attorney in the film puts it, you see good people at their worst.

If you enjoyed this review…

Watch Marriage Story today! It’s only on Netflix, but if you don’t subscribe then you can always try the 7-day free trial. Just remember to cancel in time!

Already watched Marriage Story? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments!

And if you enjoyed this post, check out some more of my movie reviews:

Parasite (2019)
Get Out (2017)
Tomorrowland (2015)

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