Grackles review Marriage Story

Directed by Noah Baumbach 

Reviewed by Charlie Riccardelli and Rebecca Bernard

In 2005, writer/director Noah Baumbach cemented his place as a chronicler of raw dramedies with his searing The Squid and the Whale. A marked changed of pace from his earlier indie films, The Squid and the Whale was his semi-autobiographical story growing up as the child of two strong-willed parents who are going through a volatile divorce. Fourteen years later, Baumbach’s own divorce (he had previously been married to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh) serves as the inspiration for Marriage Story, a different kind of divorce drama centering on the arduous process of dissolving a marriage.

As the film starts, Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are already in the process of divorcing. For the better part of a decade, they’ve been a collaborative couple in New York theatre (he a director, she an actress). Now, she plans to relocate to California to reignite her Hollywood career and pursue her unrealized ambitions. Neither seem prepared for the seismic shift divorce will bring until Nicole opts to seek legal council instead of self-mediating. Charlie, in denial of the seriousness of what’s happening, soon finds himself in an expensive cross-country custody battle for their son.

Charlie Riccardelli: I don’t know about you, Rebecca, but sometimes when watching Marriage Story I wanted to cover my eyes like I was watching a horror film. Even if the viewer has no experience with divorce, they’ve probably witnessed or lived through a messy breakup, and this film hits at a lot of the rawer elements of what might happen: friendly amicability that turns sour, pitting people against the partner, custody issues, changing dynamics with friends and family, and the usual emotional toll. I’d be curious how couples handle watching this film together. I remember hearing once that the great Ingmar Bergman’s similarly heightened Scenes from a Marriage caused divorce rate to rise in Sweden after it debuted.

Marriage Story is coming out forty years after another famous divorce drama, Kramer vs. Kramer, and it’s interesting to see how much society has changed in how couples work together in a relationship, and yet the basic conflicts of that earlier film are much the same in Marriage Story. Even as I tried to remain an objective viewer, I couldn’t help but take sides at some points. Perhaps Baumbach’s greatest strength here is that he always finds a way to take whatever you identified with and fling it back at you to reveal a certain selfishness or contradiction sitting beneath the surface of every conflict they’ve let metastasize.

Rebecca Bernard: It’s really interesting to read that about the film’s relation to Baumbach’s own divorce (of which I was unaware)—I kept finding myself thinking about Kramer vs. Kramer as well, though I couldn’t remember many details. I agree that one of the film’s strengths is that we see these vestigial moments of tenderness even in the context of great anger. The way that we cannot stop loving someone, even if we have effectively stopped loving them in any practical context. To an extent, I see your point about the shifting identification, but I ultimately found myself somewhat more aligned with Charlie’s character, and I think part of this is because of the way information or motivation is imparted. I found myself confused and frustrated over Nicole’s decision to partner with the lawyer, given its tremendous economic bu