This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Kalavente’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I watched Marriage Story over a month ago and reviewed it, and I wouldn’t replace anything of what I wrote then.
However, this re-watch has allowed me to look at certain aspects of the film more closely, examining it from a colder perspective—and ironically it’s an approach that has actually brought me closer to the film, made it warmer, even acknowledging that after the first time the emotional investment is gone.
It’s true that Marriage Story is “process over processing”—the legal circumstances lead the way over the emotional effects. Nonetheless, a subtler view of this “mechanical” approach merits the film for what it does: on the one hand it’s absolutely precise while taking us through; on the other an emotionally burdened, conflicted depiction is closer to the divorce story I wouldn’t come back to, or want to see in the first place.
Part of its expertise shows in its being built solely on dialogue (plus renovating visual moods which tend to reflect how each character is welcomed or rejected by their surroundings). And considering this, the development is stupendous. With a precise idea of how far each scene is going to cover, the dialogues are excellent all-around, for every character; the monologues are even better.
That’s because this particular take on divorce—depicted more as a ruthless, greedy monster than a fight between two real lives—doesn’t let the characters take us anywhere: the procedures, the lawyers and law become the ones to claim to know how they live better than they themselves do, and once they’ve entered the script set for the divorce they can only follow.
That can be a risk, a limitation. The characters do not obtain a life of their own—even speaking from within the narrative itself they do not hold control over the simplest events, neither of their views are accepted at court as they were.
But Marriage Story is aware of this to not neglect their struggles in this regard, to provide character development wherever it can (again how much of this it constructs through dialogues alone is one of my favourite things), and because of all above the result is a lot less fickle and unsteady. Comparatively more undramatic and calculating, as far as I’m concerned that perspective can actually be a relief for the most part.
I also looked at the acting more intently, and although I went into the re-watch with the idea that after I’d finished I’d mostly shower Scarlett Johansson with praise, what I could find out is that the two actors take on their roles differently, and both deliver good performances.
My impression is that Johansson looks more aware that she’s acting but truly blows some scenes out of the water, and displays a wider range of feelings in general, whereas Adam Driver apparently puts in less effort of the sort that stands out, and plays through the smaller, “natural” details—such as the dry, sometimes curt “thanks” that ends up sounding like a character trait.
As a character I’d definitely remember Nicole first, but Charlie’s stoicism allowed Driver to portray him in a way that he doesn’t look fictional in the first place.
Finally, last time I lingered on the painful effects sustained by the two characters during the divorce: who suffered the most from it, which advantages and disadvantages they held over the other parent for their custody prospects, which life plan thrived and which one succumbed under the economical (in concept even more preposterous, if possible, this time around) and emotional strain. On that I concluded that during their married life Nicole had to give in too much, and in return Charlie had to give up afterwards.
All these readings are fine to further what the film builds and see how well the details develop, but it doesn’t project the story further in any way—and I noticed that when my perspective on the ending changed.
No longer seeing it as a door that closed and left the family with nostalgia as the only means to revisit the room, it looked more like a new opening for the three of them. A way they could continue to know each other without the pressure of fixed obligations; an opportunity for a clean start.
Together in the same place where they would’ve been had they not separated, but more at ease as a family—why couldn’t that be better?