The main characters of the film are Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). Charlie is a director who runs his own theater in New York, with which he achieves more and more success. Nicole is his actress wife with Hollywood A-list potential who has moved to New York for Charlie. Now she acts in her husband’s plays, they have a son together, and we learn that their marriage happened very quickly – we can take this as a warning sign that maybe they weren’t meant for each other.
The opening minutes, in which the spouses describe what they like about each other, create expectations that are totally different from what follows in the story. These descriptions are not heard by those to whom they are intended, and it will turn out that the fact that they do not hear each other is the biggest problem in their relationship. After the introduction, we realize that the marriage of the title broke up at the very beginning of the film. Descriptions, as well as their shared history, are not so important at this point.
Marriage Story is not a film about how a marriage falls apart, but about how the relationship between two people, who once had a strong connection, was practically destroyed in the divorce process. That in itself is very sad, and even sadder is that nothing can save their marriage. However, as their divorce gathers momentum, we will legitimately question whether they will ever want to see each other again in their lives, even though they have a child together. The author very astutely does not place the blame on either Charlie or Nicole, although it is clear that one action probably triggered the avalanche of separation. It slowly reveals to us the reasons why the marriage broke up, and in the process, our protagonists also discover everything that bothers them about the other party, although they probably didn’t pay attention to it before.
The two are intelligent and capable, but have a problem with communication, especially when it comes to feelings and career-related needs. The fact that they are stubborn also does not help them. Their flaws are accentuated by the divorce process, and together with it comes resentment, almost open hostility, insecurity, a blow to finances and the rest. Charlie and Nicole are obviously decent people, but the legal battle has completely torn them apart. The author does not mourn their marriage, but shows us how much pain they have to endure in order to make their divorce official. It’s sad that most of that pain could have been avoided.
As the process progresses, their situation escalates, and the scenario leads them to a new upsetting or uncomfortable interaction, to a new legal dispute or complication. Their relationship becomes one painful moment after another, with no indication that it will ever end. There is no victory for either side, as every single move can be interpreted differently or counter-argued. Bombek’s story is intimate, uncomfortable, painful and honest, but also has a dose of humor, and the minimalist style gives the impression that the events are happening in real time.
The acting duo is at the top of their task. Adam Driver is fantastic as a combination of a stubborn man, who is only interested in things that relate to him or his theater, and a naive optimist, who expects things to work themselves out and everything will return to normal. Opposite him is Scarlett Johansson, who quite surprised me, as a woman who is fed up with someone else dictating to her how she will live. They are heartfelt in almost every scene and are very convincing in presenting a couple between whom the gap is growing, but who must not be completely separated because of their child.