Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the critically acclaimed “Marriage Story” made its initial debut at the Venice Film Festival in August 2019. Grossing a mere $2.3 million upon its release, this film also received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award and 52 additional accolades in 2020.
The film illustrates the divorce of Charlie Barber, played by Adam Driver, and Nicole Barber, played by Scarlett Johansson. The two work together in Charlie’s theater company, Exit Ghost, where Charlie directs a play which Nicole stars in amid their failing marriage. They attempt marriage counseling, but due to their stubborn personalities, the couple makes little progress.
Nicole finds herself cast in a television program in Los Angeles, so the family temporarily moves there with their young son, Henry. During this time, Charlie travels back and forth to tend to his theater company.
While in LA, Nicole visits a divorce lawyer suggested to her by a colleague on set. Soon after Charlie returns home, she serves him divorce papers with the help of her sister. Charlie scrambles to hire a lawyer and switches between a few as the divorce escalates, and the risk of Charlie losing custody of his son becomes more probable.
Nicole goes as far as to hack Charlie’s email, uncovering an affair he had with one of his colleagues during their marriage. Nicole insists on spending Halloween separately with their son, which strains Charlie’s relationship with Henry.
Much of their divorce is spent battling over where Henry will reside. Charlie claims they are a “New York family,” but Nicole aims to stay in Los Angeles — this is where Nicole was born, the couple got married and their child attends school. Because Nicole’s attorney is much more combative than Charlie’s, Charlie fires his attorney only to hire an equally determined lawyer.
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Throughout the taxing separation, Charlie and Nicole share individual and conjoined emotional distress, both inside and outside the courtroom. Nicole visits Charlie at his home one day, both initially remaining cordial as they normally would outside of divorce proceedings. But, at some point in their conversation, they erupt into an exhausting and pathetic mix of anger and sorrow. Nicole consoles Charlie, and both agree to fairer terms in their divorce despite the lawyers recommending otherwise. Henry ultimately remains in Los Angeles.
A year after the ruling, Charlie and Nicole flourish in their fields, and Nicole is in a new relationship. Charlie notifies Nicole he is now living in Los Angeles full-time to be a better father to Henry. Charlie finds Henry reading a letter Nicole had written about her then-husband as part of their failed attempt at marital counsel; Charlie reads it per his son’s request, and he cries while reading the heartfelt words Nicole refused to read in counseling some time ago.
Both attend a Halloween party the same night, and Nicole allows Charlie to take Henry home despite it being her night of custody. The two say their goodbyes as Nicole fixes Charlie’s shoe. They warmly depart.
“Marriage Story” is a heart-wrenching account of the unfortunate circumstances of divorce. The stressors portrayed in this film seem too raw and real for comfort, and could certainly win the attention of any audience. The movie’s dispiriting nature succeeds in conveying a harrowing tone and serving an intriguing plot line — not to mention the emotionally skilled actors and amazing cinematic detail. It is no wonder why “Marriage Story” received the substantial amount of awards and recognition that it did.