Movie Review: A Marriage Story

I think one of the reasons I often don’t get to see as many of the Oscar nominated films as I’d like is that so many of them are movies that require a fairly hefty emotional investment. A lot of the time when I’m ready to watch something, I want to do nothing more than sit and be entertained. “Deep thought” is far from my To Do list. “Get depressed” is even further. Of course, that’s not entirely fair. It’s not as if all serious movies are depressing. They just are designed to make you think much more than your average Marvel movie, say.

But at the same time, those Oscar movies are often the best ones I see. I know they’re worth my while in theory. I’m just too lazy to prod myself to watch them in practice, which is why I’m glad I have this goal to watch as many of them as I can. (Goals work best for me when they get me to do something I want to do and wouldn’t do without that goal.)

Marriage Story is a classic example of this. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver portray a couple that’s falling apart. The film depicts the demise of their marriage in all its painful, excruciatingly acted detail. It’s a hard movie to watch, but it’s a very well done movie. (I had no idea Randy Newman did the score, which I felt added a great touch to the whole thing. I should have known.)

Driver and Johansson really dig into their roles, inhabiting them to the point that we feel we know them by the end of the movie. This isn’t a divorce where one person is “bad” and the other is “good.” Rather, they’re both complex, and the marriage fell apart for a number of reasons, with hints of other reasons lying deeper still.

One of the things I appreciated most about the movie was the attention to detail. Driver plays a director, and Johansson plays an actress. When they’re preparing (individually) to be observed by a social worker to report to the judge on their parenting skills, Driver focuses on getting the house just right. He perfects the setting, talks to his son, works on dinner. Johansson, on the other hand, focuses on her performance, practicing through what she’ll say beforehand. Details like that make me want to parse the movie apart further, because they hint at the sort of thought that went into the construction of the movie.

Was it perfect? Not quite, in my book. I gave it a 9.5 instead of 10 for one basic reason: I felt like the movie skewed a bit too heavily toward Driver’s character, slightly favoring him in the divorce’s fallout, and glossing over some of the mistakes he’d made that caused the divorce. It’s nothing glaring, but it was enough to make me keep expecting they’d finally address it in the movie, but they never really did.

Maybe that’s unfair of me. Maybe I should just be accepting of the fact that Driver’s character was a shade nicer than Johansson’s. But it felt off to me, and that held it back from a perfect score. That said, I still loved the movie. Loved how much the real communication between these two people who clearly still had feelings for each other had broken down to the point that the only time they actually communicated, they were shouting and crying. Loved how it led by listing all the things they liked about each other, and how even that led to their relationship’s ruin.

It’s a thought provoking movie, but it’s not one you’re going to leave feeling good about life. (Well, maybe you’ll feel good that your life isn’t Driver and Johansson’s . . .) I would not be surprised to see any actors walk away with awards, but I would be disappointed if it wins best picture instead of 1917. (I’d be surprised if it won, considering the director didn’t get a nod for best director . . .)

Have you seen it? What did you think? It’s streaming on Netflix now for free. (Rated R for language, but a fair bit of it. If that’s not a turn off, I think this would be a good one to watch as a couple, if only to discuss ways you feel their relationship went wrong, and what you can do to avoid that. My takeaway? Communication. It always seems to come back to that for me. If your communication lines breakdown, then your relationship tends to wither away.)

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