"She's a mother who plays. Really plays."

"I listen. I play. I put in the time."

The first line occurs very early in Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story while the second comes later-after much change has occurred in the lives of the characters speaking these lines. These lines come from two different characters, but they represent equal recognition of this intangible, but truly difficult quality to possess. It is in this simple connection-this acknowledgement in an admirable sense-that we know from the beginning no matter how ugly things get between Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) that they will somehow be mature enough to find those lasting connections, those things that transcend their own relationship, that will allow them to find a common ground not only for the sake of their child, Henry (Azhy Robertson), but for the sake of their continued love story-even if the romance of that love lapsed long ago.

Marriage Story
is in fact a love story, but a love story told through the lens of divorce that takes these two people we come to know on a very precise and personal level that we then watch fall further and further away from one another. The rigmarole of divorce turns things into a very impersonal process overrun by other people's opinions and agendas leaving Charlie and Nicole to ultimately find a way to figure things out on their own...doing so through that kernel of a connection the viewer trusts remains between them. Of course, said connections are more apparent to the viewer as some of Baumbach's best writing and directing moments here come when we see either of the two leads true emotions come to the surface outside of the presence of their former partner; each of them becoming what they needed to be for themselves and for one another while they were married after the fact.

In regards to the approach, the acting on display and all of the technical facets that come along with bringing these words and performances to life the film is exceedingly satisfying if not heartbreaking, but it is in the details of Charlie and Nicole's relationship that Marriage Story offers its most curious and fascinating insights. As written by Baumbach, Marriage Story is presumably based on the filmmakers experience during his 2013 divorce to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh with whom he shares a son. In Baumbach's screenplay, Johansson's character essentially confesses to her lawyer (an absolutely ruthless Laura Dern) that her reasoning for moving back to California after the family had lived in New York for almost the entirety of her and Charlie's marriage and jeopardizing their marriage in the first place was due to the fact she no longer felt like the draw in the relationship or in their creative endeavors; or at least as much of one as her husband had become. This may or may not have been the case in Baumbach's life, but one can't help but feel some of Nicole's dialogue might be drastically different or her perspective somewhat shifted were Baumbach not the sole screenwriter. Baumbach's need to be in full creative control of the film in fact plays into the idea that one of the chief issues Nicole has with her and Charlie's relationship is this idea that Charlie is unable to separate his love and admiration for his wife and his love and admiration for their theater company into two separate entities. Just as Charlie devotes himself fully to his work that Nicole is thankfully a part of, Baumbach fully immerses himself in examining the situation in which he writes about; unable to separate his ambitions from the actual people who have helped fuel them.

Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) work through their divorce while maintaining a sense of normalcy for their son, Henry (Azhy Robertson), in Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story.
© Netflix
Baumbach's approach in the film makes Nicole the catalyst for the divorce when it's so very clear it was this aforementioned lack of balance (among other things) that led to Nicole feeling she had no other choice but to take such action. This isn't to say the marriage failing is completely Charlie's fault and that Marriage Story is Baumbach's attempt to explain himself while genuinely trying to understand where his ex-wife might have been coming from, but it's certainly a part of it. It is the psychoanalysis of these two individuals from a person that now has some distance from the situation though, that makes viewers consider their own successes and shortcomings in their own relationships. It's easy to be a good partner when you're forced into putting on a performance for the court, but it will always remain difficult to be a good partner day in and day out without taking things for granted when there is no motivation to do so outside of your love and admiration for that person. The success of Marriage Story is that it effectively conveys this sentiment with all the necessary emotional baggage while the shortcoming is that, even in hindsight, Baumbach has yet to learn how to constructively collaborate.

Side bar: what is Johansson's fascination with tying shoes this year?!?

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