Review by Camden Ferrell
Noah Baumbach has become a staple of independent cinema with films like The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha, and Margot at the Wedding. Time and time again, he has proven himself to be a master at crafting realistic characters and relationships. He achieves this using his poignant writing and confident direction.
His films are all very personal and thus they bear an uncanny resemblance to our own lives. My first Baumbach film was 2005’s The Squid and the Whale. I saw this film about the effects of divorce on a family unit at the same time my parents were going through their own divorce. It was a time in my life that brought a lot of change, but it was a change that was put into perspective after viewing the film. I saw so much of myself and my brothers in the kids, and I saw so much of my mother and father in their parents.
This is where Baumbach excels the most. He has an extraordinary ability to write characters that are so realistically fleshed out that we are moved by how much we can relate to them. The dysfunctional family dynamic of 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories is one that reminds us all of our own wacky family relationships. Even the optimism and camaraderie in 2012’s Frances Ha reminds us of some small part of ourselves that longs to achieve our dreams and live life to its fullest.
His newest film is no exception. Yet another Baumbach film about divorce, Marriage Story feels completely original as it details the agonizing end of a marriage. This film revels in its ability to create an affecting and powerful portrait of divorce. It achieves this through its nuanced performances and stellar writing.
This film follows Charlie and Nicole Barber as they navigate through divorce proceedings all while trying to care for their 8-year-old son. It’s a unique blend of Kramer vs. Kramer and Ordinary People, and it really sets a new standard for films about divorce. Baumbach has a beautiful way of capturing humanity at its best and at its worst. This film is a testament to that ability. He never aims for melodrama, but rather focuses on the realistic and still powerful emotions in a story.
There is a subtle and looming agony throughout the entire film that makes it feel incredibly real. The movie is an emotional rollercoaster that transcends the screen and holds a mirror up to us. It is packed with heart-wrenching blows and a tense atmosphere that hits too close to home. We feel the frustration as our characters encounter legal roadblocks, financial obstacles, and their own personal turmoil. It is a film that shows us how far parents are willing to go to fight for their kids.
This film is led by Adam Driver (Patterson) and Scarlett Johansson (Lost in Translation) in career-best performances. They perfectly embody these characters and absolutely nail the dynamic of divorce in such a visceral and raw manner. There is no doubt in my mind that these are two of the most impressive performances in recent memory. The film also has a great supporting cast consisting of Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda. The actors take their already impressive material and elevate it with each of their own unique and beautifully realistic performances.
This film boasts some fantastic cinematography. It’s impressive how the film captured this story in a way that felt candid yet poetic at the same time. It’s beautifully shot, and it heightens the film’s realism in an impressive way. Randy Newman also delivers an absolutely gorgeous score that serves as a backdrop to this heartbreaking story. It’s almost reminiscent of the work he has done on Pixar films in the past, and it fits perfectly in context of the film.
All of these elements create a highly powerful body of work rivaled by few. It is one of the most emotional films I have ever seen. It captures the impulsiveness of a family in crisis, something that many viewers can relate to. There are cathartic bursts of emotions throughout that are jaw-droppingly painful. During one pivotal moment, I found myself breaking down in tears in a way that no movie has ever done before.
Marriage Story is an unbelievably resonant and beautiful film that is one of the best this year. It’s a relatable story that packs an emotional punch. With his masterpiece, Baumbach has proven himself to be a modern auteur who will undoubtedly have an enduring legacy on American cinema.
Marriage Story is now streaming on Netflix.