Dir. Noah Baumbach. 137 minutes.
Here’s something rare: a film that shows wit without glibness, precision without contrivance and warmth without sentimentality. “Marriage Story” centers on Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver), two showbiz overachievers who have, after eight years of marriage, decided to call it quits. The film opens with a sequence that could stand alone as a brilliant short: a montage of tender moments from Nicole and Charlie’s relationship that leaves us wondering how such a charming union could fall apart so completely. The film spends the following two hours answering this question.
With its sharp humor, vigorous sense of romance and nostalgia, and Gershwin-influenced soundtrack, “Marriage Story” is something like a superior Woody Allen film. Johansson and Driver turn in characteristically subtle and dedicated performances, and Laura Dern breaks type as a venomously cheerful divorce attorney who looks like she smells of appletinis and essential oils.
“Marriage Story” is a triumph of talent over budget. It delivers no gimmicks, and only a few moments that feel like they’re angling to become iconic. The film succeeds by sheer brute force of the actors’ and director’s brilliance, teasing drama and even enchantment out of our detached, phone-addicted, post-everything age. Even if you’re not a Netflix subscriber, it’s well worth $8.99 to experience.