Reel Rundown: Marriage Story

Reel Rundown: Marriage Story

Elise Flor, Student Columnist

Noah Baumbach’s 2019 film Marriage Story is one of this season’s most emotional films, the story centering around a family in the middle of a divorce and custody battle. The cold war-like relationship between husband and wife was portrayed realistically, humanistically and gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking.

The film opens with voiceover monologues from Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) about what they love about the other person. The monologues are paired with beautiful clips that go with the words being said by each character. It is only when both are over that the audience is shown the truth.

The couple are not actually telling each other, or anyone, any of the heartfelt words from the opening monologues. In reality, they have written down these words and have been instructed by a marriage counselor to read them aloud to the other person. Before any progress could be made, Nicole decides that she will not participate, and leaves the room and a sorrowful Charlie behind.

As the film goes on, it is soon revealed that Charlie had been having an affair with one of the stagehands who was working on the play that he had been directing Nicole had been starring in. Tensions rise for the viewers as the couple goes home to their eight year old son Henry (Azhy Robertson) who is also starting to be affected by the continuous fighting between his parents.

Nicole soon leaves and moves back home to Los ANgeles from New York City, bringing young Henry with her and leaving Charlie in NYC. Unbeknownst to her husband, Nicole is planning on moving out there permanently and filing for divorce while there. 

Charlie finds this out while visiting her and Henry; he’s been served, and Nicole has hired a divorce lawyer (Laura Dern) and is fighting for full custody of Henry.

With a forced hand, Charlie also hires a divorce lawyer and the war between him and Nicole becomes active. Henry is caught in the middle and does not realize what is really going on as his parents’ relationship deteriorates further and he is forced to choose sides.

The climax of the couple’s war happened during a screaming match in Charlie’s temporary apartment in LA. They sling abuse and formerly held back truths at each other as they learn more about their relationship and personalities than they ever would have if they stayed married.

Their war was essentially over after this, they settled in court for a half and half split of custody and stayed civil for the sake of their son.

However, the reality of the story stops there as tense, ugly divorces rarely end up so peacefully. Henry will most likely have lasting childhood trauma from his parent’s endless fights and will probably grow up heavily favoring one parent over the other.

All of this is implied, which adds a different sort of reality to the story. Their marriage story is not over yet, Henry is still a young child and the couple is still in contact for his sake though their tensions will very likely never be truly resolved.

This tension is just one reason that this movie is so realistic. The never ending arguments that unintentionally put Henry in the middle are another. For anyone who has lived through a parent’s ugly divorce can testify to that. 

The havoc that can be wreaked on relationships with friends, family and children are all displayed amazingly in this film. Baumbach’s directing, writing paired with Dern, Johansson and Driver’s acting brings this story to a whole new plane of reality that could transcend the screen and be connected to millions of people’s lives in the past, present and into the future.

The connection to reality makes it one that is extremely difficult to watch for those who can relate. Tears flow easily with this heartbreaking story and the overall watchability of the film decreases because of this.