Marriage Story is very reminiscent of 1979’s Kramer vs Kramer in how it depicts a marriage and family unit crumbling. Acting is everything in a film like this because in order for us to see this marriage in a realistic light, the cast must reveal the poison that’s killing it. Thankfully, the cast does an incredible job at showing us who these people are, what they used to want, what they currently want, and why they just can’t keep going down this road. I have some issues with this film and I’m not completely on board with the 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but this must be seen for the performances alone.
Scarlett Johansson is a very talented actress. I will say that while I think she’s gifted, I’m not one of those huge fans that’ll see everything she’s in. Having said that, I think this is probably the best performance I’ve seen her give yet. There’s one scene in particular between her and Laura Dern where she gives this long rich monologue and I was honestly amazed. I’m always impressed by an actors ability to perform a long single shot monologue with so much dialogue and make it so real. The dialogue in that scene is very important because of the scene’s subject matter but Johansson’s facial expressions and body language makes it pop and she makes the dialogue pack an emotional punch.
I haven’t seen a lot of Adam Driver’s work to be honest, but I was impressed with his searing performance as Johansson’s soon to be ex husband. He has so much anger and stress on him and it comes across with such intensity. You can tell that his emotions are steadily heightening as the film goes on and it’s difficult to watch because you hate to see things get ugly for these people.
Driver is for sure at his best during a pivotal scene where the two of them engage in an absolutely brutal fight. Drive delivers one of the most hate filled insults you could imagine that’s said at the height of their fight and what’s really incredible is his ability to perform that with such red faced anger and then realize what he’s said and breakdown. That entire sequence is so honest because that’s how life can be sometimes. We go at each other due to our rage and anger then realize we’ve said something we would never really mean and feel unbearable shame. I appreciate it when dramas like this have an honest nature.
The supporting cast does an impeccable job too, Laura Dern being the biggest standout. Dern is one of my favorite actresses, I absolutely adored her in Big Little Lies and she actually plays a similar character here. Dern’s character is a tough as nails attorney that’s representing Johansson. She has near perfect delivery with her very blunt straight forward lines. There’s something so entertaining about a character like hers because the majority of us aren’t in the position to just say what we really want to say and it’s delicious to see someone just go for it. I don’t want to give away what’s said but there’s one scene where Johansson is going over questions she’ll be asked by the examiner and Dern has this wonderfully written monologue that’s so hilarious. It probably was my favorite part of the film.
That brings me to another point about Marriage Story, there are moments of comedy in this very serious drama, some work (like Laura Dern’s monologue) and some do not. There’s one scene towards the end between Driver and a social worker that might have been funny in a different film but it felt awkward and out of place to me. Speaking of scenes that don’t work, there’s a scene in the end where Driver sings this song that’s meant to be meaningful and emotional but it’s very long and it just didn’t land to me. No offense to Adam Driver but I don’t think singing is one of his top skills. Also, I’m not sure if this is common with 8 year olds, but their son came across as very insensitive and pretty selfish in most of the scenes he’s in. I honestly dreaded it when he was onscreen because he was always making his dad feel bad or just complaining all the time.
Marriage Story is a very well acted film with well developed characters, complete with searing dialogue. While I don’t think it’s the 10/10 people are saying, due to a couple issues I have with it, it’s solid and needs to be seen because of the performances alone.