VIFF Review: Don’t Netflix and Chill with Marriage Story

Credit: VIFF

We can already see it.

You’ve been dating for a couple months. You’re at the point where you feel comfortable with each other that no scheduled “dates” are necessary anymore. You can just hang out and watch Netflix and whatever.

But when you’re scrolling the entertainment giant’s offerings and come by a cute-looking romantic comedy with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, do yourself a favour. Do not click on it. Tell them that you hate Adam Driver (impossible I know, but maybe they’ll buy it) or that you think Scarlett Johansson is a bad actress (also hard to believe, but some people actually think this).

It’s not that Marriage Story is a bad movie—far from it—it’s just not the kind of film you’ll want to see with anyone you’re currently experiencing a honeymoon phase of a relationship with.

The plot revolves around Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson), a married couple who own a New York theatre company and are going through the process of separation. They also have a young son named Henry.

The film builds as the legal proceedings get exceedingly complicated. What writer/director Noah Baumbach does brilliantly is infuse the sombre situation with actual laughs. Both Driver and Johansson are deft at subtly injecting comedy into their performances.

And they’re joined by an exceptional cast. Julie Hagerty and Merritt Weaver are excellent as Nicole’s mother and sister, while the legal process is made a lot funnier by the presence of a sunny Alan Alda, a perfectly smarmy Ray Liotta and Laura Dern at the top of her game as various lawyers.

Dern in particular is captivating as Nicole’s pushy attorney. She has some brilliant bits of dialogue, including a gender diatribe that’s as funny as it is piercingly true.

This, of course, isn’t Baumbach’s first trip down the rocky road of divorce. His 2005 effort, The Squid and the Whale, was a devastating tale of a family of four splitting up, while 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) deftly played on familial dynamics.

Here, he frames the film quite well, often focussing on one character at a time and honing in on them, letting us see what they see. A poignant score from Randy Newman doesn’t hurt, either. 

As with other recent Baumbach efforts (2014’s While We’re Young, for instance, which also starred Driver), Marriage Story does slow down just a little about two-thirds of the way through. Two hours and 16 minutes is a long time to watch people get divorced, after all.

But the lull is not long, and the finale is definitely rewarding. That’s a credit to the two leads, both of which will be major figures in the Oscar conversation next year.

Johansson is perfect as the compassionate but conflicted Nicole. While Driver’s Charlie is portrayed with a bit more sympathy (maybe the result of a male writer), he puts together one of the more affecting male performances of the last 10 years.

But if your date asks, you heard the movie sucked. 

Marriage Story will receive a limited theatrical release on November 6, 2019, and will hit Netflix exactly a month later.