Painful, Harrowing, and Worthwhile
Review: Marriage Story
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Alan Alda
Based loosely off director Noah Baumbach’s own experience, Marriage Story is the account of Nicole and Charlie Baber, a former couple separating and dealing with a coast-to-coast divorce.
What starts as an amicable process between two parents eventually breaks down as opportunistic lawyers get involved. As well as the jockeying for where the former couple’s child should live, and the financial implications, there are allegations of infidelity and mistrust.
And yet, for all of the pain and hurt that the protagonists clearly feel, there is evidentially some enduring love and care just below the surface, and a kind of bond forged out of the two being parents together. So often, there are little moments where reconciliation seems possible if just out of reach, were the characters to simply be honest with each other about their doubts and fears.
Marriage Story does not place blame on either character for the breakdown of the relationship. Instead, the camera is there to capture the fights and the hurt and to tell the story of a relationship that changed over time.
The film is largely carried by the performance of its main actors, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver.
A central scene where the couple finally discuss where things went wrong is particularly powerful. Alternating between close-ups of the characters’ faces and wider shots, the cuts become quicker as things become more intense.
All of this would seem to indicate a film that is intense, and at some points difficult to sit through, but Marriage Story thankfully manages to work enough black humour in that the film does not become laborious.
Divorce has long been a vexing issue for the church. Jesus appears to forbid the practice in Matthew 19, although this passage is heavily contextual and owes much to how divorce in the first century so often left women in poverty and with very few options. The Uniting Church opted long ago, however, to concede that while divorce should be avoided where possible, it is sometimes necessary.
As a 2012 Assembly discussion paper on marriage puts it, “In cases of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage, the Church acknowledges that divorce may be the only creative and life-giving direction to take.”
It should be noted that some of Marriage Story’s more intense scenes may be a little distressing for viewers.
Marriage story is streaming now on Netflix.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor