When does love end?
We’re taught that one’s ultimate goal in life is to find the one, get married, and live the happily-ever-after described in storybooks. We are taught that love is a sacred entity that exists between two people destined to be together (‘til death do they part). But we are not characters written in pages, and love is not binary. Love is messy, confusing, and ultimately, it’s fleeting.
Noah Baumbach’s latest offering is a melodramatic tale of two people seeking stability and coherence in the destructive process of divorce. The film deals with the emotional, physical, and mental turmoil caused by the monstrosities of Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole’s (Scarlett Johansson) separation.
You are first exposed to the story by witnessing what Charlie and Nicole love about each other. The opening is a beautifully crafted prologue of a seemingly mundane relationship, one that is clumsy but genuine. You can feel the tenderness of each word, the sincerity between the pauses. It makes you wonder how the story of these two people who are so clearly enamored by each other end with such a tragic denouement. But then the montage roughly cuts to Charlie and Nicole sitting in front of a mediator. The atmosphere of calm is gone, replaced by an uncomfortable air filled with palpable tension. It’s one of the things that the film does so well: it makes you feel so much emotion without it feeling shaky or uncoordinated. You laugh at one point, cringe the next, then tear up.
The movie is bolstered by the outstanding performances of the actors. Scarlett Johansson gave such an empathetic, encouraging, and deeply intricate picture of Nicole. You feel the tiredness in her eyes, the weight of her emotion in her clothes, and the inner conflict in her slips. She made Nicole a character so real you almost feel like you’ve seen her somewhere: maybe in the familiarity of the situation in your estranged divorced aunt. Maybe it’s the similarity of the matriarchal figure she grew up with and end up going back to, like that certain friend of yours, or the fighter in her that seeks to find independence and clarity no matter how devastating her situation is, like yourself. Adam Driver once again proves that he is one of the most versatile actors in main stage today. What makes his performance of Charlie outstanding is that it doesn’t feel like a performance at all. You don’t see Adam playing Charlie; you just see an over-controlling director who’s also a good son-in-law to Nicole’s mother. You see a father who’s scared of losing his son. A man suffering the grief of losing his wife. But one of the standouts of this film is Laura Dern. Her performance – without any other term to perfectly describe it – is a breath of fresh air. Amidst the intoxicating tension between Charlie and Nicole, she is a beacon of hope. She symbolizes the women who got out of divorce who stood strong; who are unapologetic and real.
Marriage Story, however, is not just about the impeccable acting. Yes, it is the face of it. But this is a movie done well from its script, directing, editing, and even it’s scoring. The dialogue is pronounced, rich, but not condescending. The exchange between characters with their own dynamics is a delight to watch. You get chuckles from humorous banter, and goosebumps and tears from the full-force confrontations. The color grading feels warm, contrasting the somber tone of the situation yet accentuates the deep-rooted love (no matter how complicated it has gone) surrounding these characters. The score doesn’t force you to feel emotions; simply strengthening the raw performances of the actors.
When does love begin?
Love takes on many forms. Maybe it’s when you meet a person and everything just clicks into place. Maybe it comes with the contentment of companionship, and the warmth of that person’s touch. But maybe love begins right after it ends, when the acceptance of defeat isn’t suffocating anymore. Maybe it’s when you realize that the grip you have onto someone is no longer a sense of comfort but rather a burden, a chain of thorns that leaves the person drowning, choking for air. Maybe love truly begins when you lose your inhibitions, when you strip yourself of conceit and pride and finally understand that there is no better choice than to let go.