Dec 11, 2019
We couldn’t let this year close without covering today’s film, because apparently Adam Driver is having the best year of his career. In addition to MARRIAGE STORY, Drive is also appearing in Amazon Studios’ THE REPORT and a smaller, less mainstream film called STAR WARS: EPISODE IX THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. We’ll be reviewing both films after the break in the new year. Of course, I won’t be reviewing today’s film, because Andrew Campbell is sneaking in today to give us his thoughts. He actually got a screener with a ridiculous amount of information.
Before the review, we’ll have a promo from our friends at the Pop! Pour! Review podcast. Every episode, the PPR crew review a movie, then design a cocktail based on the movie itself. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram @poppourreview and subscribe to their podcast on all major platforms. Also, don’t miss their guest review here at One Movie Punch for PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (Episode #620), where they helped me get a little further along on my journey.
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Here we go!
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Hello film fans!
Andrew here. Back with a bonus review this week. After a clerical error resulted in my being accepted into the Austin Film Critics Association earlier this year, I was lucky enough to get invited to the occasional press screening, but the times and locations rarely work out for me to attend. It was still a pretty cool perk even if I couldn’t take advantage.
Back when I was a teenager, my mom worked for an advertising agency which specialized in running regional newspaper ads for films playing in the theater. This was back when you had to get a copy of that day’s paper to view showtimes, else call the theater’s recorded hotline. Thanks to her job, I would get passes to advance screenings on a regular basis and shamelessly used my plus-ones to buy friends. Looking back, this may have been what spurned my obsession with film.
In any case, over the last month, film distributors have gone into overdrive. With awards season now underway, rarely does a day go by without getting a screener link in my inbox or a DVD in the mail. Makes me feel like a kid again, even if half the DVDs I receive are for films already widely available to stream.
For today’s film, Netflix sent out a two-volume set of deluxe his & hers books to promote the picture. And while the lovely gift was a sufficient nudge for me to review the film, it certainly didn’t influence my opinion.
Today’s movie is MARRIAGE STORY, the 2019 drama from writer/director Noah Baumbach. MARRIAGE STORY stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a New York City couple going through a divorce. Charlie is a theater director who specializes in more avant-garde fare to moderate critical acclaim. Nicole met Charlie as a young actress and now serves as the theater company’s female lead. Most of the background details are hazy, but the couple has probably been together for about a decade after a whirlwind romance and they have a son Henry who appears to be around age seven (7). We follow the divorce as it grows increasingly contentious with the involvement of lawyers putting strain on what might otherwise be an amicable separation.
The title of MARRIAGE STORY is a bit misleading as this film is all about a protracted divorce. As excited as I was to see the movie, this is definitely the kind of film that you have to be in just the right mood to see and the tough subject matter may be enough to keep some potential viewers from ever giving it a watch.
The most famous film about a divorce is 1979’s Best Picture winner KRAMER VS. KRAMER. In the acclaimed film, neither spouse is without flaw, but when Meryl Streep’s character takes off, leaving Dustin Hoffman behind to care for their young son, I remember taking his side pretty quickly. (Of course, I was like 14 at the time and watching without “parental guidance” so what did I know?).
As MARRIAGE STORY unfolds, the audience can sympathize with both halves of the divorcing couple. It’s not about choosing sides and Baumbach doesn’t serve up a favorite. The end result is a far more gut-wrenching than KRAMER VS. KRAMER. Nicole and Charlie love each other and their son dearly, but have grown apart. Their marriage is coming to an end, but it’s the divorce process itself that threatens to ruin any future relationship.
Since MARRIAGE STORY debuted last Friday, Netflix audiences have not been universally won over by the film, which is not at all surprising. Baumbach’s films are tense and emotional and especially with MARRIAGE STORY, not always the most fun you’ll have at the movies. What you aren’t seeing out there is anything but praise for the performances of Johansson and Driver. Baumbach’s script runs them up and down the emotional scale a number of times and his choices with everything from set design to camera angles give both actors all the opportunity they need. For a film about divorce, their chemistry is picture perfect. They are always at the right emotional level, knowing when to go big and when to be more subdued. There’s a scene near the end of film with an especially heated blow-up that takes place in Charlie’s spartan apartment that is full of such exquisite pain and love, that they could show the same clip twice at the Academy Awards when they each receive their inevitable Oscar nominations.
What makes MARRIAGE STORY fantastic? I was quite elated when the credits rolled on this film. It’s an emotional white-knuckler and, whereas I appreciated nearly every minute of the movie, it was a relief to be done and hopefully never go through it again.
Yet, in the days that followed, I found myself thinking through individual scenes and trying to remember bits of dialogue in a film where every word feels deliberately placed and full of meaning. MARRIAGE STORY pulls off the high wire act of being authentic, without once becoming pretentious, something that few films of this nature, Baumbach’s other works included, are able to successfully pull off.
MARRIAGE STORY is a personal story of the pain of divorce that feels like a stage play with perhaps the best all-around cast performance you will see all year. Fans of Noah Baumbach’s previous films such as GREENBERG, WHILE WE’RE YOUNG (which also featured Adam Driver) and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES will enjoy this film.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96% (CERTIFIED FRESH)
Metacritic: 94 (MUST SEE)
One Movie Punch: 9.6/10
MARRIAGE STORY (2019) is rated R and is currently streaming on Netflix as well as playing select theaters.
Come back on Friday for my last review before we go on our end-of-year hiatus. After the heaviness of today’s review, we’ll lighten the mood with SWEETHEART. Don’t let the name fool you, this film is a straight-up creature feature from Blumhouse Productions that clocks in just north of 80 minutes. Bust your speedo out of storage, we’re going to the beach for girl versus sea monster.
See you then.