Marriage Story

Marriage Story ★★★★½

As the film began with an unexpectedly abrupt opening title and amusing voiceover montages, I've felt that this will be something potentially transcendent. Noah Baumbach, whose charming but low-key works in Frances Ha and The Meyerowitz Stories has stirred an arthouse generation, has created the best film of his career in this heartfelt divorce drama. It's a balanced, sensitive, and unflinching portrayal of two troubled individuals trapped in a situation they unknowingly put each other in. But instead of forcing audiences to judge a person, point fingers to the wrongdoer, and side with whoever character they think is more reasonable, Baumbach orchestrates a dynamic that allows empathy and understanding.

Fusing emotional subtlety and intellectual ferocity, the screenplay is an automated firecracker that knows when to show a few flickers and when to fully explode. It's full of sharp one-liners and memorable monologues — almost constructing some scenes like one-act theater. The writing reinforced the cast to deliver some of the best acting I've ever seen, led by Adam Driver and Scarlet Johansson in their career-best performances. Driver has arguably the flashier role since his character's point of view consumes a handful more screentime than Johansson, but both threads the string that ties the heart of the film. Johansson's monologues and the couple's argument scene at the back half of the film are potential acting class staples.

Marriage Story boasts one of the best acting ensembles of the year with dedicated supporting performances from Ray Liotta and Alan Alda. Laura Dern kind of just channels her Big Little Lies Renata Klein role which is not necessarily bad but a bit underwhelming. She has a fantastic one-minute monologue about the struggles of womanhood and it's a showstopper. With regard to Driver's musical performance, I did not think it reaches the emotional level it was attempting to evoke, but the meaning of the moment and the song from the musical "Company" was justified, and it's not even as worthless as others think.

Shot with vintage colors and understated visual panache, Marriage Story looks like a film that was released 25 years ago but never feels like such. It's a modern take on a Kramer vs. Kramer story with a fairer and more sensible perspective. Randy Newman composes a score that has sufficient sweet, vintage schmaltz, in which signature melodies are comparable to Toy Story (a bit hilarious that both films are a "Story").

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