The Reel Review

B-

Writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) draws upon his own 2010 split from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in this Netflix drama about the painful and complicated divorce of a New York theater director (Adam Driver) and his actress wife (Scarlett Johansson), who takes their son with her back to her native Los Angeles, sparking a contentious court battle.

There are three stars of this sad film – composer Randy Newman, whose poignantly sweet score sets the perfect balance of wistfulness and sadness, and lead actors Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, whose melancholic mourning of the end of their marriage is instantly relatable to anyone who has been through a breakup. The added complexity of trying to salvage their family also is a heartbreaker, but Baumbach’s overly-talky script is itself, a pretentious, tedious, self-serving bore, portraying Driver’s character (presumably based on himself) as the greater victim in the saga.

Divorce attorneys played by Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda apparently are intended to serve as comic caricatures of the darker, stomach churning side of human nature, but their collective one note performances are forgettable at best. Dern, in particular, feels like a continuation of her character from HBO’s Big Little Lies. While the nuanced lead performances pack an emotional wallop for parents who’ve experienced divorce, there are other divorce films – Kramer vs. Kramer, Under the Tuscan Sun, and even Mrs. Doubtfire – that are way better.

REEL FACTS

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Noah Baumbach in the happier days of their marriage (left), and Greta Gerwig and Baumbach (right).

• Writer/director Noah Baumbach, whom has been in a relationship with director Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) since 2011, says his ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh (Annihilation, The Hateful Eight, Single White Female) has seen Marriage Story and liked it.

• Laura Dern’s character is loosely based on a real life attorney who represented both Dern and Scarlett Johansson during their respective divorces.

Marriage Story is Adam Driver’s fourth collaboration with writer/director Noah Baumbach.

 

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