The Best Picture Nominees: Marriage Story

| February 5, 2020

The 92nd Academy Awards are just days away, so this week I am taking a look at each of the nominees individually. Are they worth it? Let’s take a look.

Image result for Marriage Story

Out of all of the Best Picture nominees for 2019, Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story feels the most at home in this category.  It’s a heavy drama, helmed by an acclaimed director and it stars two respected actors at the top of their game.  And while it has all of these standard Oscar hallmarks, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth the trouble.

Marriage Story feels like something that might have come from the auteur era of the 1970s.  It is sort of in the vein of films like Same Time Next Year, An Unmarried Woman and most especially Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage.   Sourced directly from Baumbach’s heart, it tells a story that is uncompromising in its emotional layers and always true and honest to the characters that we meet.

The film is the chronicle of a marriage that has finally run out of gas.  The partners Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) have decided to part company because their personalities as well as their individual careers have driven them apart.  Both seek an amicable, uncomplicated divorce, a parting of the ways that will avoid the emotional baggage.  The problem becomes what to do with their son, Henry.  Charlie has a career as a theater director in New York while Nicole can have a more prolific career as an actress in Los Angeles.  So, who gets custody and how will it be arranged?

The search for an answer brings to the surface long-held doubts and regrets that both parties have had for years.  The further into this issue they go, the more they begin to resent one another, and the machinations of the divorce become less amicable and more complicated.

Marriage Story, clearly, is not a happy story.  But that’s part of what makes it work.  Baumbach drew from his own personal experience and what comes of the film is a story that is raw, uncompromising and devastatingly honest.  This is the kind of mature filmmaking that Hollywood has generally forgotten how to make.  In lesser hands this could have been a soft-soap treatment of divorce with all kinds of safety padding to keep the audience from being upset by it.  Thanks to Netflix, Baumbach was able to tell his story, his way.  It’s a remarkable film – honest, devastating and wonderfully human.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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