Venice 2019: 'Marriage Story' is One of Noah Baumbach's Finest Films
by Alex Billington
August 29, 2019
"I can't think of anything lonelier than spending the rest of my life with someone I can't talk to, or worse, someone I can't be silent with." (–Mary Ann Shaffer, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society") That feeling of being high on cinema is the feeling I had coming out of Marriage Story at the Venice Film Festival. Bliss. Goddamn I am totally floored by this film. Noah Baumbach has been making beautifully honest stories about families for years, but this one is extra special. It definitely does seem a bit personal, something he has been through himself, but he is able to transfer this honesty to the big screen and tell us an emotional story and show us how love remains, even after a divorce. Marriage Story is actually a Divorce Story, but instead of calling it that Baumbach made "a love story that reveals itself within the breakdown."
Baumbach!! Baumbach!! Baumbach!! My god, WHAT A FILM! What a film.This cinema high happens a few times a year, and I am glad this was the film to leave me in this state of euphoria. I am totally enamored by Baumbach's Marriage Story. It's is simultaneously devastating, heartbreaking yet also full of love, heart, and a great big dose of humor that elevates it from being great to absolutely brilliant. Hands down one of Baumbach's finest films - along with The Squid and the Whale and Frances Ha. Excellence from everyone involved. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson both deserve ALL the awards as they are ravishing. The editing by Jennifer Lame is immaculate. I adore the score by Randy Newman, it's playful but endearing. Love every little last detail about this film. As sad as it is, there's something invigorating and enlightening about it, reminding us that even though the heartbreak it's love that brought people together to begin with.
Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is about a disintegrating marriage between Nicole, played by Johansson, a talented actress from Los Angeles, and Charlie, played by Driver, a talented theater director from New York City. The two have a young son named Henry, and have lived in New York City for many years putting on productions. But as they start heading towards divorce, Nicole moves back to LA to be live with her mom and take a role in a TV series. Aside from being a film about a divorce, Marriage Story is also the epitome of a New York vs Los Angeles film. It's a constant battle between why one city is better than the other, and how hard it is spend time traveling to both. The film opens with letters each one has written explaining what they love about each other, which is an important framework as it just flows right along from one scene to the next once their lives begin to separate. This makes it sad and frustrating, but riveting to watch nonetheless.
There are two amazing scenes in Marriage Story that I wanted to give an instant standing ovation to. One of them is a major fight, and it works so excruciatingly thanks to the editing. The way it cuts between them is so perfectly smooth, and it keeps the momentum going, while never taking us out of the scene or making it fall apart. It's a master class is film editing, and feels seamless because that's the key for the scene to work as well as it does. And it's an intense scene. Brutally honest, tough to watch, but necessary and important; for everyone to see, for everyone to understand, to see how relationships push us to reveal the worst sides of ourselves. Then we calm down and realize we're wrong, we love this person, it's only outbursts of emotion. This and another surprise musical moment at the end are two of my favorite scenes from any film this year.
It's the beauty and bliss of great cinema and the power of storytelling, through honesty and love, that makes me continue to film films as much as I do. Even though it's brutal to watch, and sad throughout, watching a story like this can have a positive impact. It teaches us lessons, reminds us how important love is, and gives us a chance to compare ourselves to what we're seeing onscreen. A moment of reflection. Do I need to be married to understand everything in this? To feel the same feelings they do? No, definitely not. And that's what impressed me. This is what has always impressed me about most of Baumbach's films. I don't need to have experienced all of this myself to understand them, but not just that, to understand the nuances and the complexities of the relationships he's showing us. He uses levity so wonderfully that it takes away from this intensity being too draining, and he gives us a little chance to smile & laugh even though all the hard times.
Alex's Venice 2019 Rating: 9.6 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing