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Marriage Story First Reviews: Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver Shine in Noah Baumbach's Best Film Yet

Critics say the film is packed with great dialogue, surprising humor, and nuanced performances, and it's reminiscent of everything from Kramer vs. Kramer to Jurassic Park. Yes, Jurassic Park.

by | August 29, 2019 | Comments

The latest from auteur filmmaker Noah Baumbach, his second for Netflix, premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Thursday to a combination of discomfort and laughter. Marriage Story is a tale of divorce starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson that’s clearly semi-autobiographical, and to the majority of critics in attendance, it’s also a personal triumph for the director. This is likely to be an awards contender for at least members of the ensemble cast, and maybe the screenplay. Still, if you’re not a fan of Baumbach, this might not change your mind.

Here’s what critics are saying about Marriage Story:


How does it compare to Baumbach’s other work?

Arguably Baumbach’s opus, his best film to date.
– Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

[It’s] easily the wisest film of his career, one that’s only sharpening.
– Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out

It is Baumbach’s funniest, most fine-grained picture since 2012’s Frances Ha.
– Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

With Marriage Story, Baumbach cements his reputation as one of this generation’s leading humanist filmmakers.
– Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

This is the work of a filmmaker in full command of his powers.
– Jon Frosch, Hollywood Reporter

Marriage Story is the Noah Baumbach movie we’ve been waiting for. It’s better than good; it’s more than just accomplished… this, at long last, is Baumbach’s breakthrough into the dramatic stratosphere.
– Owen Gleiberman, Variety


Will his fans like it?

[It] develops a unique tone that even Baumbach fans may not fully recognize at first… Marriage Story reflects a new level of narrative sophistication.
– Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Yes, this is another movie about the misadventures of relatively wealthy, straight white people. That may, understandably, put some people off.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Those who find themselves impatient with Baumbach’s cozy self-reflective world of pampered middle-class intellectuals will not take any comfort here.
Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International


Netflix
(Photo by Netflix)

How is the script?

Baumbach’s brilliant screenplay never falters or hits a wrong note… he writes scenes that are like verbal arias.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

Expertly scripted by Baumbach as a showcase for subtle, natural monologuing.
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out

Marriage Story is at its best when it just the two leads talking in a room.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies

Baumbach has a real knack for witty, eccentric and yet natural-sounding dialogue – something which Marriage Story definitely lives up to.
Thomas Humphrey, ScreenAnarchy


Is it reminiscent of any other films?

Kramer vs. Kramer, Scenes from a Marriage, and Shoot the MoonMarriage Story makes a worthy addition to that canon.
Owen Gleiberman, Variety

You may be reminded of Kramer vs. Kramer, but that movie, for all its fireworks, was lopsided.
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out

Not since David Fincher’s Zodiac has a movie placed such absorbing emphasis on the jigsaw puzzle of searching for solutions that may never fully resolve themselves.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

The film that came to mind while watching Noah Baumbach’s punishingly incisive dissection of a messy break-up and divorce was… in fact Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies

I was often reminded of Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale, a film I can watch multiple times and always find myself siding and empathizing with a different member of a combative, dysfunctional family.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

Like Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage — an inevitable influence — this is a tough piece of work, steeped in pain.
Jon Frosch, Hollywood Reporter


Netflix

Will it make us all feel miserable?

Somehow, in spite of the bleakness of the subject matter, it feels more redemptive than despairing.
Geoffrey Macnab, Independent

It’s wrenching stuff to be sure, but it’s also excruciatingly funny, loaded with empathy, compassion, and understanding.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

Tonally, the film is mostly upbeat: Adam Driver makes for the nicest, friendliest, most lovable gaslighter in the history of cinema.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies

Baumbach seeks to mine his material for laughs, no matter how desperate the situation becomes.
Xan Brooks, Guardian

Marriage Story puts you through the wringer, but leaves you exhilarated at having witnessed a filmmaker and his actors surpass themselves.
Jon Frosch, Hollywood Reporter


Does Baumbach do a good job mixing tones?

Baumbach performs a brilliant balancing act.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

Sometimes the film’s erratic zaniness undermines the gnarly vérité of its darker moments, but mostly Marriage Story is well balanced.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Baumbach finds the perfect blend of humor, humanity, heart and yes, suffering, to create an utterly compelling, harrowingly three-dimensional portrait of divorce.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist


Speaking of balance, is the story one-sided?

Marriage Story may often resemble a tug of war between its stars, but it’s on both of their sides.
Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

Some will say Marriage Story favors Charlie… but Baumbach is at once hard on, and forgiving of, the two characters, and audience sympathies will likely seesaw.
Jon Frosch, Hollywood Reporter

Put it this way, in its core DNA, when it drifts off to sleep at night, Marriage Story’s true heart is in New York (Baumbach’s home), not L.A.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

There’s a way in which Baumbach seems to want to tip the scales of sympathy toward the guy in the story—Nicole’s behavior sometimes comes off as a little too ruthless.
Stephanie Zacharek, Time

It’ll be interesting to see what side you come out on… whether or not you come out feeling that one side wins too heavily over the other in the war for your sympathy.
Thomas Humphrey, ScreenAnarchy


How are the performances?

Johansson delivers brilliantly textured work.
Xan Brooks, Guardian

[Johansson’s] ability to carry some of the movie’s more frustrating showdowns illustrate her capacity to look stern and fragile at once.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

Driver, in particular, the stand-out MVP if you had to name just one of the leads.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

Props especially go to Adam Driver, who at times is the best I have yet seen him.
Thomas Humphrey, ScreenAnarchy

Driver gives a bold performance… his choices add great depth to the role as written: he would seem a natural for awards attention here.
Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

Both manage to outdo themselves.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap

The sensational leads deliver the deepest, most alive and attuned performances of their careers.
Jon Frosch, Hollywood Reporter

Both have major awards potential.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


Netflix
(Photo by Netflix)

Are there any other standouts?

A phenomenal Laura Dern.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

One of the pleasures here lies in three tremendous performances from Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta as the LA lawyers who represent the couple.
Geoffrey Macnab, Independent

Alda’s real-life Parkinson’s tremors fuel what may be his saddest performance.
Eric Kohn, IndieWire

All hail Julie Hagerty, utterly sublime as Nicole’s ditzy pant-suited wine mom.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies

Robertson eschews any and all artificial cute-kid tics and delivers a genuine performance.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap


Are there any big complaints?

The film can sometimes manipulate events into scenarios which aren’t entirely convincing.
Fionnuala Halligan, Screen International

Marriage Story definitely doesn’t always get it right. It’s not entirely tonally pitch perfect.
Thomas Humphrey, ScreenAnarchy


Will it affect our own marriage?

It’s well worth your time. Maybe don’t watch it with your spouse, though.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Marriage Story also serves as a kind of horror movie preview, an inadvertent cautionary tale, that leaves you rushing to get home to your partner and treat them as well as possible for as long as possible.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist


Marriage Story premiered at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019. It will open in limited theatrical release on November 6 and be available to stream on Netflix on December 6.

#1

Marriage Story (2019)
95%

#1
Adjusted Score: 110.616%
Critics Consensus: Observing a splintering union with compassion and expansive grace, the powerfully acted Marriage Story ranks among writer-director Noah Baumbach's best works.
Synopsis: A stage director and his actor wife struggle through a grueling, coast-to-coast divorce that pushes them to their personal and... [More]
Directed By: Noah Baumbach

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