‘Marriage Story’ offers updated look at old struggle
By Connor Dziawura
The comparisons that have been made between Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage
Story” and Robert Benton’s 1979 film “Kramer vs. Kramer” aren’t without merit. From
certain plot elements right down to the posters, the films bare some resemblance.
But to solely compare “Marriage Story” to “Kramer vs. Kramer,” or any other
number of relationship dramas, would be doing a disservice to Baumbach, whose film
has been predicted among the frontrunners for the upcoming Academy Awards.
Whereas “Kramer vs. Kramer,” starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, tells
the story of a newly single father struggling to raise his son while dealing with a busy
workload after his wife leaves him, as well as the legal proceedings that ensue when she
returns seeking custody, “Marriage Story” takes an updated approach.
In Baumbach’s film, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star as Nicole and
Charlie Barber, a married couple that has been living in New York. Charlie is an avant-
garde theater director, and Nicole is an actress who stars in his play.
After the couple separates, Nicole moves back to Los Angeles with their son,
Henry (Azhy Robertson), to be closer to her mother, Sandra (Julie Hagerty), and sister,
Cassie (Merritt Wever), as well as to star in a television pilot.
But with Charlie still consumed with his soon-to-be Broadway work on the
opposite coast, life becomes more difficult as the couple navigates their messy divorce
proceedings and work lives while attempting to keep some semblance of a relationship
intact for their son.
Baumbach covers the divorce from the perspective of each parent, showing
viewers the strengths and flaws of each parent in an attempt to refrain from taking sides.
And while it’s not without its emotional weight, the film is surprisingly
funny—not a simple tearjerker. Baumbach and his actors know how to keep emotion at
bay and provide levity, but it all culminates in one standout moment of catharsis later in
Driver—a Baumbach regular who was previously featured in the writer-director’s
films “Frances Ha,” “While We’re Young” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and
Selected)”—is expectedly fantastic in the film, while Johansson—also recently praised
for her role in Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit”—gives what may be her best performance
Laura Dern and Ray Liotta perfectly play the roles of the couple’s sleazy divorce
lawyers, who attempt to besmirch the opposite parent’s reputation in the eyes of the court
despite the parents’ attempts at civility. Alan Alda, on the other hand, is an attorney who
provides a more human, compassionate view.
Hagerty and Wever give great performances as Nicole’s mother and sister,
respectively, as do the rest of the supporting cast in their own roles. Veteran character
actor Wallace Shawn and TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe even make small
However, the biggest detractor from the film is Robertson’s role. Baumbach
doesn’t reveal exactly how old son Henry is meant to be (minus a throwaway line that
confirms his age is somewhere younger than 10), but it’s clear the actor is playing
someone of a younger age than himself. This creates a disconnect, as Henry in the film
has limited vocabulary, is still learning how to read and requires a car seat.
Regardless, that one small issue is not enough to sink “Marriage Story.” The film
is a gripping divorce drama with simple, clean visuals; a pleasant score from Randy
Newman; great performances; and excellent writing that approaches its subject with a
great deal of wit. It may cover an age-old idea, but its heart keeps it from going stale.
“Marriage Story” is now showing at Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square 14. It
will begin streaming on Netflix this Friday, December 6.