9.5/10 Before watching this film I watched every film from writer/director Noah Baumbach in anticipation for this since I realized I hadn’t seen any of his films before. To be completely honest, I can’t say I am a fan of his artistic output. Granted his filmography (like most directors) ranges from bad (“Frances Ha”, “Mistress America”) to mediocre (“The Squid and the Whale”, “While We’re Young”) to great (“Mr. Jealousy”, “De Palma”). You never know what level of quality you will get with one of his pictures. Many of his films feel extremely pretentious and is so far up New York City’s ass that you can almost see Spider-Man running around in his films if you look closely enough. Yet I am ecstatic to say that “Marriage Story” is not only easily Baumbach’s best film by a long shot, but also a serious contender for the best film of 2019. The acting is phenomenal and if not for Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker, Adam Driver would have given the best performance of the year. Scarlett Johansson gives the best performance of her career and Laura Dern is the front runner to deservedly win Best Supporting Actress. Even smaller turns from Ray Liotta and Alan Alda are fantastic and there is not a single weak link in this acting chain. The screenplay, based off of Baumbach’s own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh is damn near perfect. I loved that instead of falling into his own biases and making the character based off of him the hero, he shows a complete balance between our male and female leads with both being loving parents but also flawed individuals who have hurt each other and made mistakes. The film wisely doesn’t choose sides. The film is insanely memorable including one scene with Johansson and Driver having a conversation that escalates to an intense argument and another scene near the end with Driver singing Stephen Sondheim. This is one of the most emotional films of the year that had me in tears multiple times. The score is perfectly subtle, the division between LA and NY perfectly represents the division between this married couple, the realism is palpable and anyone who has gone through a divorce or even a rough break up will get something out of this film. Sorrow and misery often draw the strongest artistic talents out of people (think Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” album) and this is Baumbach’s masterpiece. The flaws are extremely minor but prevent this film from nailing that perfect 10 rating. One scene has Johansson’s sister Cassie as a nervous wreck due to just handing Driver’s character an envelope. This is played for laughs. Later Cassie (along with her sister and mom) perform a song for an entire crowd of people. Cassie’s character felt inconsistent in going from nervous over the easiest of tasks to completely confident in a far more difficult one. The comedic aspect sacrificed the character. There is also an ongoing joke about LA having “space” that is overused and gets old quickly. These flaws are extremely minor and shouldn’t bother you. I can’t speak highly enough about how incredible this film is. I was worried Baumbach might drop the ball at the end but he delivered from start to finish. You will think about it for days afterwards and if you are like me, listen to “Being Alive” on repeat for hours afterwards. There are such high highs and low lows in this film emotionally that you almost feel exhausted once the film ends and I mean that as a compliment as that goes to the strength of the screenplay and making the audience feel like you are stuck in the middle of this divorce, just as their son is. This is a rather melancholy film (naturally) so you should be in the right mindset to watch this but I recommend that everyone see this film. Of all the divorce centered films out there to choose from, this marriage story (now on Netflix) is the best one you could seek out. I’ll be a fan of this film until death do I part.
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