Outside the box office: Reasons to watch ‘Marriage Story’

Two adults stand in love, hugging a small child in between.
(Waverly Wang • The Student Life)

While not the most typical Valentine’s Day romantic comedy, “Marriage Story” tackles many of the modern-day anxieties that surround committed relationships. However, it’s critical to highlight the fact that this film isn’t solely about a marriage, or not even necessarily the end of one.

Instead, “Marriage Story” is about the experience of life and the value of not just the highs and the successes, but the importance of hardship and the knowledge one gains from it. 

The film is Noah Baumbach’s fourteenth directorial credit, backed by the starpower of Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Since its release, “Marriage Story” has experienced a great deal of recognition, from a Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Screenplay to an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Laura Dern, notwithstanding five other Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture

Despite mixed criticism and memes, both Driver and Johansson delivered great performances in “Marriage Story.” Specifically, Driver gave a very compelling and effective performance as a downtrodden father and an ambitious artist — this role truly demonstrates his versatility as an actor. 

Meanwhile, Dern’s campy therapeutic lawyer performance was essential to the portrayal of divorce and separation law’s battle-like qualities. Her character, Nora Fanshaw, very clearly, effectively and (at times) comically, defined the cutthroat game that has become divorce law and the way in which it can erode a post-marriage relationship.

I went in with the expectation that “Marriage Story” was going to emotionally jerk me around for two hours. Given the hefty cultural weight of marriage and divorce, I was sure the film would lean on moments of high emotional intensity. 

Despite one direct and intense argument between protagonists Nicole and Charlie, Baumbach left room for character development in subtle spaces, like in tender moments with their son Henry or private ponderings at their respective jobs. This subversive, quieter style was immediately established in the opening monologues delivered by both Charlie and Nicole, where the two are introduced by one another through lists of reasons behind why they love each other. 

These tender moments showcase the film’s dogma that relationships build us up, and that severing ties have equal opportunities to take us apart.

“Marriage Story,” though, still leaves its audience with a sense of encouragement towards the beauty of sharing parts of yourself with someone else, even if there are moments of despair. This is most evident in Charlie’s cathartic performance of the yearning musical number “Being Alive” at a post-divorce cast party in a New York bar. 

Visually speaking, “Marriage Story” features highly effective and compelling cinematography that really helps guide its audience along their journey with Nicole and Charlie. Through many key choices of composition, the audience is let in on how isolated from the world Nicole and Charlie felt, alone with their own thoughts.

At its core, “Marriage Story” is about the rewards one gets from taking chances and how important the experiences we have are to shaping us. The film is for everyone at any age, at any time. 

Hannah Avalos PO ’21 is one of TSL’s film columnists. She loves writing, picking out which earrings to wear and finishing the books she starts reading.

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