Last year, in my Klaus review, I said that I intended to pay closer attention to Netflix originals in the future. Such is the way films are going that a big chunk of the nominated films this year were exclusive to the streaming platform, and it has in the past represented a gaping hole in my review spectrum.
But, as I spend so much time focused on cinematic releases, I often find myself behind on streaming releases, so I decided to remedy that by finally getting around to the first of a few Netflix films I plan on watching, Marriage Story.
Directed by Noah Baumbach (the same creator responsible for previously well-received Netflix exclusive The Meyorowitz Stories) Marriage Story is a brutally honest portrayal of divorce and it’s effects in ways rarely seen on the big screen. In many ways it has all the hallmarks of a classic love story, but with the angle of portraying what can be a very difficult, emotional time.
Baumbach’s approach to this film was supposedly inspired by his own experiences with divorce, and it shows. The film has a natural feel that can only be achieved by someone who truly knows the subject they’re documenting.
This is helped by the style in which the film is shot, making use of long takes, with two-shots and close-ups to lend the film a personal feel that is very hard to achieve as naturally as it does. There are moments of monologue and emotional turmoil captured so perfectly to emphasis each characters feelings at that time, across a wide range of emotions. A character can go from regretful and full of sorrow, to fury and righteous anger, never feeling incongruous in doing so thanks to its almost flawless script and simple, yet effective cinematography.
Speaking of dialogue, this is where the film really comes into its own. Making a film script sound like familiar people having believable conversations is extremely tricky, even if you can capture it, it may not translate well onto film as real conversation doesn’t really flow that well, Marriage Story takes cinematic dialogue and realistic dialogue and marries them (no pun intended) seamlessly.
The monologues are pitch-perfect, resisting the urge to be self-indulgent, the dialogue allows the film to flow extremely well. Making characters converse the best way to move the story forward, it doesn’t rush its characters or its narrative. In many ways the whole ‘film’ aspect takes a back seat, sometimes settling on one camera angle and allowing us to watch and engage with the characters and their interactions, which really helps endear them to us, it makes us care because we recognise these characters from somewhere, we may have even had these conversations, and that’s a rare sweet spot to find.
The biggest positive to come out of Marriage Story both critically and in terms of award nominations is the acting, which is phenomenal. Fronted by a pair of powerhouse performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, this tale of two people entangled in a potentially messy divorce could have all fallen apart had the leads not absolutely knocked it out of the park, which they did, and then some.
Both performances are excellent, but if pushed I’d probably single out Driver as the best performance, maybe even challenging Joaquin Phoenix in terms of the push towards Best Actor at this year’s Oscars. His character develops before our eyes, we see him in positive moments, and we see him at his worst. While this is the case for both lead characters, it’s much more apparent in his, as we see him go from a highly emotionally blocked character to one brimming with anger and despair, it’s a juxtaposition pulled off so delicately that he can make you angry and sympathetic, all within the space of a few lines, it is a truly masterful performance.
ScarJo is also up for Best Leading Actress for this film (and Best Supporting for Jojo Rabbit) and she is also outstanding, her character might not have the same growth and developed arc as her leading mans, but her character is just as complex and layered, like her performance. I was impressed by her in Jojo Rabbit and utterly spellbound in this film.
In case you haven’t inferred from the last few paragraphs, I adored Wedding Story. It took a subject that is incredibly difficult to handle, and made it into an engaging character drama, concerning characters who resemble flawed, realistic human beings. I don’t think it’s perfect, a few of the characters felt like overkill to me, and a few of the supporting players could have done with a bit more to do, but in streamlining its narrative, it keeps a tight focus on those around whom the story revolves. It may not be perfection, but it’s damn close.