It’s not so much “A Marriage Story” as it is a shattering tale of divorce.
Writer-director Noah Baumbach's film has moment of humor, to be sure. But it also cuts to the quick of feelings of betrayal and anguish between two people whose marriage takes a turn for the worse.
Baumbach, who himself is divorced from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, hits all the right notes in a sometimes raw, always personal portrait of two good people who no longer can live with each other. Both try to protect and support their little boy.
Adam Driver is Charlie and Scarlett Johansson is Nicole.
The film begins with letters, read aloud by each of the main characters, about why they love the other. During the readings, we see fragments of the couple’s everyday lives while they pursue their careers and raise their son. “He loves being a dad,” Nichole writes. “She’s a mother who plays, really plays” with their eight-year-old son, Henry (Azhy Robertson).
Charlie is a theater director in New York. Nichole is part of the repertory and also is shooting a television pilot in Los Angeles.
The divide is geographical, personal and insurmountable.
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Nichole wants to pursue the chance to become a television star — the pilot probably will lead to a series. She needs to move to Los Angeles, but Charlie refuses.
Nichole decides to move anyway. Separation follows. At first, the two agree lawyers won’t be involved, but soon they face custody issues.
And then divorce lawyers become part of their lives, with a pragmatic veteran attorney (Alan Alda) taking Charlie’s side and an assertive attorney who focuses on women’s perspectives (Laura Dern) with Nichole.
The film is easy to embrace because there is no villain here. Like so many couples you probably can identify in your own life, Baumbach provides insight to the needs, wants and motivations of both characters, which makes them both sympathetic to the audience.
Ultimately, the pressure and the pain results in screaming and sobs. Charlie lashes out verbally at Nichole, saying terrible things in a memorable scene which, sadly, may be all too familiar to viewers.
Baumbach has created a movie that will appeal to theater goers and stage aficionados because of its characters. It also will delight audiences who appreciate character studies, because every line of dialogue and scene reveals more about the two leads.
The performances all are outstanding, especially for the two leads. Oscar predictors have “Marriage Story” among their top picks at the moment.
It’s in my Top 10 for the year.
You might want to grab a tissue before you start to watch.