HOLLYWOOD─I’m not sure what is transpiring in cinema nowadays where we are getting modern takes on classics, but with an exceptional element of originality, but I love it. There are some people out there who will compare “Marriage Story” to the 1979 classic “Kramer vs. Kramer” starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, about a couple facing divorce and an impending custody battle that challenges them both in ways they never expected while trying to care for their son in the process.
This new take stars actors I’d least expect in the roles, but they shine America, they absolutely shine. Adam Driver portrays Charlie Barber, a New York theater director who has seen plenty of success in his career. He is married to Nicole portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, who is a former teen movie star. I have argued for years that Johansson is a phenomenal actress, who just gives it her all in any movie that she stars in and really stands out in this drama as a character you cannot place in a box; she is that layered.
Driver, who so many remember from the HBO comedy series “Girls” and the latest trilogy of “Star Wars” has shown his acting talent in last year’s “BlackKklansman,” where he earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination. This is a very different role for Driver that allows him to show a massive range as an actor, showing a softer side of a character that is not as easy to pinpoint as one would like to believe.
“Marriage Story” follows a relationship that in essence has run its course. People who were once in love have fallen out of love. Charlie and Nicole attempt to navigate how to grapple with those emotions, while trying to do their best to raise their son Henry (Azhy Robertson). I would be lying if I didn’t argue that anyone who comes from divorced parents or who has ever been divorced and have children will connect with this movie.
As a kid you see the good, the bad and the ugly from both parents. As an adult, you see the dilemma that a child is placed in where he or she is forced to choose between mom and dad. Who do you want to live with? What type of question is that for a 5 or 6 year-old? Those are issues that Henry grapples with throughout the movie.
What I can tell you as a kid it is a tough question, and you feel like you’re betraying the other parent if you’re forced to make a decision. Charlie and Nicole’s plight strikes you at the core and it hurts like hell to watch it unfold on the big screen. There are like three scenes at the end of the movie that just shatter your heart, and if you have any level of compassion you will be crying in that theater seat because the scenes are just that powerful between Johansson and Driver. This is beyond stellar acting it is Oscar-caliber and if these two do not nab Lead Actor and Lead Actress nominations in 2020 it’s an absolute travesty.
While both Johansson and Driver are standouts, Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta deliver solid performances as lawyers fighting for their clients. Dern is solid as a Nora Fanshaw, who goes for the jugular when it comes to getting the best possible deal for her client. She reminds me a bit of her character Renata on “Big Little Lies” with a sharper tongue, but more calculating in her approach. Liotta is good, as Jay Marotta, who challenges Charlie not to take it easy on his wife in the divorce. In the middle we have Alda who portrays Bert Spitz, a guy keen on finding a compromise between all parties versus winning.
“Marriage Story” has plenty of layers, and that is a result of an honest, genuine and just gripping script by Noah Baumbach, who also helms the flick. Baumbach has never been better, and this is some fantastic work. This movie haunts you in a way that not many films can, it forces you to think about love, relationships, family and how a divorce can be like a death in a family, sometimes a lot worse.