Marriage Story, the new Netflix Original film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, is a bit misleading since the entire film is about divorce.
Maybe they thought if it was called Divorce Story no one would click on it and give it a try. When you combine the people currently getting divorced with the people who’ve already been divorced and add in the children of divorced parents, you’ve probably accounted for 90% of Netflix subscribers in the United States.
Divorce has touched everyone of us, some more directly than others.
In Marriage Story, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play Charlie and Nicole, a New York playwright and his actress wife. As the film opens, they are beginning the divorce process by attending a form of counseling.
Their assignment is to write a letter about each other’s good qualities, to try to recall what caused them to fall in love in the first place. It’s a clever way to give us a crash course on these two characters and set the stage for everything to come.
The divorce of a playwright and an actress sounds a bit stilted, as if the film is about the First World problems of the rich and famous. Instead, the film wisely steers away from finances and fights over money. The focus becomes their five-year-old son, Henry.
Custody disputes are the great equalizers. Rich or poor. White or a person of color. Older or younger. Everyone loves their kids. Marriage Story focuses on parenting and not wanting to be absent from your child’s life, and in the process, it makes the themes of the film universal.
Every parent and most non-parents can readily identify with Charlie and Nicole’s struggles.
The cast is a Who’s Who of A-list actors: Driver, Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, Wallace Shawn. Expect several Academy Award nominations for these performances as well as nods for screenplay, directing and Best Picture.
Marriage Story can be a tough sell to the average film fan. A two-hour film about divorce sounds about as fun as picking at an old scab. But Baumbach’s screenplay is as witty as it is melancholy. There’s plenty of laughter to go with the sadness. Marriage Story doesn’t wallow in misery.
Marriage Story hits Netflix this Friday, December 6th. Don’t let the subject matter frighten you away. You’ll cry, but you’ll also laugh. And you just may learn something about yourself along the way. I give Marriage Story 4 out of 5 popcorn buckets.