If your partner (or, perhaps, ex) is notching Emmy nominations while your play has just been shelved from Broadway, is it justifiable to be jealous? What if your marriage is actively obstructing your ambition? Where does the balance arise and, if push does eventually come to shove: what gives? This is the central conceit within Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, Netflix’s manifest champion for awards season. Debuting at Venice Film Festival, the divorce drama benefits from the longest theatrical run of their upcoming slate and will be additionally screened at TIFF, Telluride and NYFF; similar to last year’s release strategy for Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma.
Unfortunately for Netflix, Marriage Story doesn’t quite compare to the majesty of Roma. It’s hardly a poor product: the script benefits from Baumbach’s down-to-earth, chattery style of dialogue and a career-best performance from Adam Driver (Antonio Banderas’ Best Actor hopes seen shaking in a corner). But this particular tune feels played – specifically, by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep in 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. It’s not exactly ‘remake’ territory, but it’s far from the unique, daring picture you would envision at the forefront of your award fantasies.
There’s also the problem of hiring Robbie Ryan – of such gorgeously lensed films as The Favourite, American Honey, and Slow West – as your DP and not utilising his clear, industry-leading skill. The shot design of Marriage Story is fascinatingly dull. Any run-of-the-mill Hollywood cinematographer can shoot closeups of Adam Driver’s gloom-drooped face (with, of course, ample coverage). Like the relationship at the centre of Marriage Story, it’s disappointingly wasteful.
It would be facile not to acknowledge Marriage Story’s emotional impact – only the eyes of the soulless won’t water. But should a film so clearly manufactured to tear-jerk be celebrated for achieving the bare minimum? Probably not.
CAST: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Laura Dern, Mark O’Brien
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
WRITER: Noah Baumbach
SYNOPSIS: A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a grueling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and creative extremes.