Marriage Story ★★★★

Straightforward, empathetic chronicle of a divorce between two flawed, ultimately well-intentioned characters has the ring of truth that comes from reframing past mistakes that did not, at the time, necessarily read as mistakes. Thus it's kind of a film about how growing up doesn't really end with the entrance to adulthood, and also a sophisticated examination of irrevocable change in a romantic relationship; Baumbach superbly weaves the multiple complex threads that culminate in a dissolution like the one depicted. The level of detail in the script and performances belies the vagueness of the title, though I suppose the same could be said of Bergman's similar and very different Scenes from a Marriage. All the vignettes are well-observed, and most of them are mordantly funny.

I watched this a month after it premiered on Netflix, and I've been fairly active on Twitter recently, so there was no way to avoid the hashtag-discourse around it; I ended up being surprised by how much subtler and calmer the film was than I expected. The expected criticisms about these being highly privileged characters are hard to argue with, but Baumbach like so many other writer-directors of his stature is kind of between a rock and a hard place in that situation; the characters' status never seems as much an obstacle to the story or to our relationship to them as it does in something like, say, Exhibition... presumably because, like Kenneth Lonergan or Sofia Coppola, Baumbach has a central understanding of people's inner lives that's undisturbed by his distance from the life most of us live. Secondarily, I found both central performances to be grandly understated for the most part -- a few off-notes, but so what? -- and felt the supporting cast was uniformly great except maybe Julie Hagerty, who played it a little too broad for my tastes, at least in the early scenes. It didn't seem to me that anything about the film was unbalanced or anything but finally wistful and good-hearted. So I dunno, I guess this is what happens when you put out a highly personal work and it gets a lot more visibility and traction, thanks to Netflix, than would be typical in a standard theatrical rollout. Baumbach remains one of my favorite directors working and this shows him still at his peak as a filmmaker and screenwriter. I concede that The Meyerowitz Stories was better, though.

(I do think a lot of the reaction to this is an interesting exercise in people-see-what-they-want-to-see, though, which for all I know was deliberate.)

Nathan liked these reviews