The beauty of Marriage Story lies in underpinning the realization that there is no happy ending, either way, and yet, you can choose how you want to end it
There is a handsome couple - one is a theatre director while another is an actor - and their marriage is falling apart. They have a son and they both want to keep him - what else do you want to make a plot more dramatic? There are breaking of hearts, cheating, tears, and blood, but it refrains from creating a drama every single time you predict.
Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson, feels being subsumed by the overarching personality of Charlie, played by Adam Driver. Charlie is the director of a New York based theatre company where Nicole also works as an actor. When offered a starring role in a TV pilot project, Nicole moves to Los Angeles, where she grew up, and puts their son into a local school.
The distance between the two cities is played allegorically to portray the dissonance in their marriage. No matter how much they appreciate each other’s idiosyncrasies - the lists of compliments that both Nicole and Charlie narrate as their accounts written at the behest of a mediator - their disappointments also fill a large space in the marriage.
Things go rough when the lawyers in the course of defending their clients humiliate the opponents, but the courtroom drama does not hit the edges hard while there was all the potential to it. The central characters are mature and sensitive (and so are their performances), and later they express their wish to come to more sensible compromises so their son’s well-being can still be prioritized. But again they burst into arguments over their discontented past.
Nicole says that even the idea of their physical intimacy makes her “want to peel my skin off” while Charlie says “every day I wake up and I hope you were dead." But you do not feel that hatred wins over love, and neither the opposite. They just pick up the pieces whether they like it or not, and continue to struggle towards some livable negotiations.
The most fascinating part of Noah Baumbach’s latest film is that how all the little events are played with subtlety; by ceasing from culminating in something too intensive, they rather merge smoothly into the mundane realities.
As an audience you might try to figure out what message lies beneath it: that the lawyers make a divorce dirty? Or, despite all the ugly business a divorce could still be civil and respectful? Or, regardless of all the discords the parents must secure the child’s interest and comfort? But is any of that something new? Perhaps not.
Marriage Story carves out a niche for itself by playing on the gray zone between the dichotomy of marriage and divorce with a very low and humane tone. The irony is well portrayed when the father and the son are required to perform a part of their daily life under a professional observant. And at one instance Charlie asks him: “Do you ever observe married people?”
There is no gaudy effort to make you empathize with the protagonists. However, the beauty of Marriage Story lies in underpinning the realization that there is no happy ending, either way, and yet, you can choose how you want to end it.