Combustible Celluloid
Own it:
With: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Azhy Robertson, Julie Hagerty, Merritt Wever, Mark O'Brien, Matthew Shear, Brooke Bloom, Kyle Bornheimer, Mickey Sumner, Wallace Shawn, Martha Kelly, Rich Fulcher
Written by: Noah Baumbach
Directed by: Noah Baumbach
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout and sexual references
Running Time: 136
Date: 12/06/2019

Marriage Story (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Split Ends

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Noah Baumbach usually does better when he chooses the right collaborators, and he has certainly done that on Marriage Story, putting everything on the shoulders of the charismatic, skilled, and appealing actors Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. They are Charlie and Nicole Barber, a director and an actress, but also married couple (with a young son) who are divorcing. Over a (too long) 2 hours and 17 minutes, Baumbach provides episodes from this process, ranging from meetings with divorce lawyers, to attempts at sharing time with the child, Henry (Azhy Robertson, with a 1970s-style moptop haircut much like Justin Henry's in Kramer vs. Kramer).

Laura Dern plays a cutthroat lawyer who helps Nicole, while Charlie relies (at first) on the kindly Bert Spitz (Alan Alda). A Halloween goes badly, as Henry goes trick-or-treating with his mother first, and then is dragged around late at night by Charlie for another round. Another sequence, a long, organically-building argument is also a stunner.

The reasons for the divorce are fairly opaque, and are not easily explained by anything so simple as adultery or abuse; it's just that they couple can't really communicate anymore. Yet they still seem to be friendly on some level. It's a fascinatingly complex gray area, even if the movie is weighted slightly toward the male character. Perhaps inspired by Baumbach's own divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh, the screenplay here is less fussy and busy than most of his other work, those quasi-comedies that come too close to Woody Allen territory. Marriage Story is a definite step up for this filmmaker, coming closer to something honest and personal.

Movies Unlimtied