It’s hard to dispute Netflix’s control over its viewers’ homes. From being practically pre-installed on every device capable to its sheer volume of content, the company has ingrained itself into the American zeitgeist in a way few brands have.
That’s what it’s continued through Marriage Story, a film centered on two individuals (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, each in career-best work) trying and failing to make their relationship work. The film, the second in a relationship with director Noah Baumbach, uses its writing, acting and sheer force to define what a home is—even a broken one.
The film revolves around Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) Barber, two rising personalities in the entertainment industry. However, as Charlie’s directorial efforts take precedence over Nicole’s acting ambitions, the two come to agree that their marriage will no longer work and proceed toward a divorce and child arrangement. Then the fire starts.
What Marriage Story does with that fire is layer it, reflecting all the elements of divorce not usually depicted in the media. The arguments are still there, as are the physical wounds, but the film looks past that in favor of the love that drew them together. From its opening scene, with each partner reading what drew them together, we can feel their attraction, which makes it much more compelling when we see them pull apart.
That is a testament to Driver and Johansson, who both pull away from their franchise-beholden careers to produce their best work. As Charlie, Driver exudes the ambition and personality needed to portray a rising Broadway director, one who begins to lose that grip as he struggles to see his son. Johansson, as an aspiring actress, reconciles her own ambition with the stress of, both hopelessly appeasing her husband and catering to her child, crumbling under the weight of spreading herself too thin. Through their roles, you see why this couple fell for each other—and understand why they can no longer be together.
But their performances also give way to a stellar supporting cast. As marquee divorce attorney Nora, Laura Dern gleefully dwells in the underbelly of divorce while evoking the same take-it-all attitude as her turn as Renata in Big Little Lies. Alan Alda, in almost a legacy role, plays her counterpart as the “in it for the people” attorney, attempting to help Charlie before being replaced by a hotshot lawyer in Ray Liotta (who needs more roles in material of this caliber). Through them, the film becomes whole.
I can’t say for certain if Marriage Story will win every Oscar it’s nominated for, as there are so many films as deserving. However, I can say that this film is the only one to capture the reality of what a family at home is like and what happens when it fractures. This story, unlike the others, is one that will resonate the longest.