Marriage Story, a tale of the bittersweet

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With Oscars season just around the corner, Marriage Story is a competitive contender if I’ve ever seen one. The film stars Scarlet Johansson and Adam Driver in a tale of, ironically, the end of a marriage. In a story that takes you between Los Angeles and New York City, features soft-lighting and a white man redemption arc. It practically checks off every box any Academy Award voter would look for.

(COURTESY / NETFLIX)

But like any Oscars contender, the intended audience could be very niche. For any high school student, it’s easy to look at the synopsis and think divorce and dramatization. Instead, Marriage Story is about empathy, sacrifice and fragility and there’s nothing disputable about the phenomenal storytelling.

The movie starts with the beginning of an end, as you never see the main protagonists before their split. Yet, the audience ends the film with as deep of an understanding of their relationship as if they were to witness its entirety. This is due in large part to the central duo who – rather than steal the show – simply propel the story further. 

Granted, I’ve grown used to seeing Johansson as Black Widow and Driver as Kylo Ren. But when there aren’t any explosions or CGI to distract from their phenomenal acting, it’s no question that for these two leading actors, Marriage Story is their biggest feat yet. The script leaves no room for debate on loose ends and each character feels articulate and complete.

(COURTESY / NETFLIX)

If the film doesn’t receive a nomination for screenplay or leading actor, a supporting actress one is already in the bag. Laura Dern’s character as a divorce lawyer was practically written to claim a nomination. Dern perfects “weaponized kindness,” as each line she utters is as impactful as Johansson’s six-minute monologue.

But beyond the stellar acting, the movie’s soundtrack bordered on tacky and unsuiting. The score alone, and only alone, is incredible. But it’s not contentious enough, which leads to scenes feeling awkward or melodramatic. Few moments actually match the tone the music attempts to set. Randy Newman composed the original score for the film and has worked on the soundtracks for all sorts of Disney classics, ranging from Toy Story to Cars and Monsters Inc.

(COURTESY / NETFLIX)

But Marriage Story is not a Disney classic. There’s no fairytale ending. It’s a heart-wrenching movie that is both bittersweet and an absolute rollercoaster. Once you get past the opening scene, every bit of music feels almost nostalgic, but not in a good way. Abrupt scene changes and unique angles compliment the film quite nicely, but when it’s combined with a melody that reminds me of Mike Wazowski or Andy giving up his toys? Not so much.

It’s a harsh distraction from a devastating story with such strong performances. It’s a pity that an ill-fitting score played such a negative impact on the holistic experience.

But nonetheless, Marriage Story is thought-provoking and rewatchable. I’ve already seen it twice since its Netflix release earlier this month, each time developing a new sense of understanding of each character. And I’ll be sure to watch it again once the Academy grants the movie the recognition it deserves.