Nicole, Scarlett Johansson, is an actress separating from her husband Charlie, Adam Driver. Charlie is the director and owner of an off-Broadway theatre company. Nicole is his star actress and under his strict direction. They have a son, Henry, complicating the divorce process. A divorce does not seem to be a compelling topic to center a film around, but Marriage Story makes a strong argument that it is. It is a compelling movie with a wonderful cast.
Nicole moves from New York to Los Angeles to complete a pilot and the first season of a new television series, bringing Henry along with her. Charlie, meanwhile, has a play opening on Broadway and just received a MacArthur genius grant. Soon Nora Fanshaw, Laura Dern, enters the picture as Nicole’s divorce lawyer. This catches Charlie by surprise as they intended to not get lawyers involved. Nora is infamous around Hollywood and Charlie ha reason to be concerned.
The story revolves around Charlie coming to the realization that his directorial control over Nicole has extended to all aspects of their life. Nicole realizes that she still loves Charlie but needs to exercise her own freedoms and explorer her interest. Emotions run high and bubble over, this is where the movie shines.
Both Adam and Scarlett are likely to get Oscar nominations because the academy rewards actors portraying actors out acting each other. That is not to say they are not deserving. The nature of their characters lends themselves to long and dramatic monologues. The discussions would work just as well on Charlie’s stage as they do on screen. It is refreshing to see Adam Driver continue exploring new roles beyond the brooding, one-dimensional, Kylo Ren. Scarlett Johansson is always a force to be reckoned with. This may be her best role as a normal human and not just a sultry voice or leather-clad superhero.
The subject matter at first may seem strange, but it is handled beautifully. There are lots of scenes with lawyers and legal talk about the intricacies of divorce law. The lawyers are all portrayed as evil, money snatching, cut-throats. They stand in contrast to the love that Nicole and Charlie still share. In the end, the message is that you need to listen to your partner, and both pursue your goals while letting the other pursue their own. The love that brought Nicole and Charlie together still exists; it has just changed forms to a point where they can’t be married anymore.