Marriage Story is not just Noah Baumbach's best work yet, it is also among the most truthful of the year
By Chase Hutchinson
While watching the brilliant Marriage Story, I could not shake the echoes of director Noah Baumbach's earlier film The Squid and the Whale which came out in 2005.
Not only does this feel like a revisiting of many of the themes in his earlier work, it feels like a companion piece that improves on many of the ideas that he had been playing with.
What elevates Marriage Story to be one of the best of the year is how brutally honest it is in crafting a brilliant character study of its two leads, Nicole and Charlie.
It not only shows the collapsing of a marriage but the collapsing of these two deeply flawed people that you still deeply care about.
Played by Johansson and Driver in what may be their best roles of recent memory, the film lays their ambitions, hopes, dreams, and desires entirely bare.
It is often times painful viewing and even frustrating as honest stories can be when they hold nothing back.
Obviously, there was honesty in much of Baumbach's earlier work but this is different. Vastly so in fact.
This recent work doesn't let the audience off the hook with as many laughs that release the tension, making it perhaps his most tonally serious film.
Don't get me wrong, there are still some incredibly devilishly funny lines that push his humor to a darker place than many of his earlier works.
However, it is incredibly patient and methodical in pulling back layer upon layer of their relationship until you understand these two people so deeply.
It further challenges the audience by creating a fraught relationship where not only is no one perfect but no is one solely to blame.
In The Squid and the Whale, the father played by Jeff Daniels was much more selfish and unlikeable which made for a more clear "villain" if one can even be called that in a Baumbach film.
In this, there are no clear villains save perhaps for the divorce attorneys who push the two leads at each other often against their wishes.
Rather, both characters have said and done hurtful things to each other. Some times intentionally and other times less so.
This type of narrative framing is utterly enthralling and almost impossible to not be engaged with as it feels so much more raw.
Life, after all, does not always have such clear cut, easy moral evaluations. There are so many components and complexities to people which this film captures almost perfectly.
Much of this is due to Driver and Johansson acting at the top of their game, breathing life into every single scene even in the most subtle of ways.
The ways that they continually fall into old patterns and routines with each other is equally as heartbreaking as it is sweet.
They both know each other so well, perhaps more than anyone, even as they have grown apart from each other and no longer wish to be together.
It is hard not to see oneself or someone you know in this picture so brilliantly painted. Whether it be a friend, a parent, or a partner this film delicately captures the turmoils of drifting apart with an unflinching gaze.
As one begins to reflect on the end of the year with all the significance that is placed on it, this feels like a fitting end of the year film: it is messy, beautiful, simple, complicated, painful, joyous, and ultimately true.
And to see a story that is true is always something worth seeking out.