“She knows when to push me and when to leave me alone.” If ever there were a double-edged sword of a line, it’s the ostensible compliment Charlie pays to wife Nicole at the behest of a mediator who seeks to initiate their divorce proceedings in the spirit of goodwill rather than rancor. But then, double-edged swords are what all couples wield—and get wounded by—when they split, drawing in blood the shockingly thin lines between intimacy and estrangement, gratitude and resentment, love and hatred.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are drawing career-high raves for their performances as the couple in question, who are struggling to negotiate the distance between them both emotionally and literally. Charlie runs a theater company in New York; until recently, Nicole was his leading lady onstage as in life (not to mention the mother of his eight-year-old son Henry). But for the actress, being in her director-husband’s spotlight always felt a lot like being in his shadow, and now she has the opportunity to come into her own as the star of a TV pilot filming in Los Angeles. It’s a chance she’s taking; that it will come at the cost of their marriage—throughout which she has supported his career at the expense of her own—is another chance she’s taking. In fact, it’s a given. Enter the lawyers (played by Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta), and, with them, the increasingly cruel realities of the blame game, the custody battle, and the future for a broken family.
In its combination of comedic genius and crushing poignancy, writer/director Noah Baumbach’s work has long drawn comparisons to that of Woody Allen; given the bicoastal culture clash that informs the divide between Charlie and Nicole, Marriage Story has inevitably raised the specter of Annie Hall. But to the extent that critics are noting the similarities, they’re also dismissing them in order to anoint Baumbach an auteur in his own right and usher him into the canon of 21st-century American filmmakers. For this delicately contoured and shaded, exquisitely sad and funny divorce story alone, he deserves to be there.
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Producer: Noah Baumbach, David Heyman | Editor: Jennifer Lame | Cinematographer: Robbie Ryan | Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Merritt Wever, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta