A couple’s separation turns bitter.
In Noah Baumbach’s new divorce drama, Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson “remind us why they’re in such high demand,” said Dana Stevens in Slate.com. Though one has an ongoing Star Wars gig and the other has played a Marvel superhero, “they don’t need special effects or high-concept premises to work their spell on an audience.” They’re “superb performers, attentive, generous, versatile, and able to register minute shifts of feeling and understanding on their admittedly well-proportioned features.” Here, their talents anchor a powerful portrait of a modern divorce that devolves from amicable to toxic once lawyers get involved. With the possible exception of The Squid and the Whale, a 2006 Oscar nominee, it’s the best film Baumbach has made.
An opening montage ensures that we feel the story’s tragedy, said Stephanie Zacharek in Time. Johansson’s Nicole and Driver’s Charlie are listing what they love about each other as we watch flashbacks. But they’ve made the lists at the request of a mediator trying to help them through separation, as Nicole, an actress, wishes to move across the country with their young son, while Charlie, a theater director, can’t imagine leaving New York. As the attorney representing Nicole, Laura Dern is “almost diabolically shrewd,” offering sisterly reassurances while escalating the legal battle. Her principal opponent, a shark-like Ray Liotta, answers in kind. And yet it remains Driver and Johansson who move this domestic tragedy to “a place beyond thinking, where raw emotion becomes an entropic, hurricane swirl.” That Marriage Story manages at times to be funny seems “a near miracle”—given that “every moment feels ripped from raw, miserable reality,” said Nick Schager in TheDailyBeast.com. “If you’ve never been through a divorce, it’ll scare the hell out of you. And if you have, it’ll break your heart.” ■