Marriage Story: A Stunning Portrait of Heartbreak

Grace Ortiz is a freshman that is a part of the Acting for Stage and Screen program. Her review of the Oscar-nominated film Marriage Story was for her WRIT 220 class, but she would love to have others read it as well!

Marriage can be a beautiful thing between two people. Holy matrimony binds these two people for eternity, both hopelessly in love with each other. At least, that’s what the rom-coms make us think. Marriage Story (dir. Noah Baumbach) displays the harsher reality of some marriages. The 2019 Golden Globe- and Oscar-nominated film follows the journey of a once-happy couple in the midst of a divorce. The film is exhilarating and heartbreaking all at the same time, leading the audience through a myriad of thoughts that reverberate through both the couple and their families. Adam Driver delivers a solid performance as Charlie Barber, a strong-willed director who dreams of taking his play to Broadway. Scarlett Johansson counters him as Nicole Barber, a feisty and vibrant starlet who starred in his play and dreams of being in Hollywood. Driver and Johansson are electrifying together, intertwining emotional vulnerability into the moments of tension and heartbreak. The added performances of Laura Dern and Ray Liotta as the couple’s lawyers adds a three-dimensional look at the unfortunate consequences that come with the sad aftermath of a rocky marriage.


Director Noah Baumbach sculpts a stunningly heartbreaking image of divorce that has the audience conflicted on whom they should pity. Obstacles shoot up everywhere amidst the conflicts that are commonly seen in many splits in real life: child custody battles, cheating accusations, feeling unloved or neglected, and money troubles. As it turns out, the couple does resolve to split up on amicable terms for the sake of their son. Baumbach models the dialogue after his own divorce, with the cross-stream of two successful people’s lives causing hysteria between them, along with the stress that comes with the legal system getting involved. Each character was crafted expertly, giving the audience a stunning look at an unfortunately-true series of unfortunate events.

Director Noah Baumbach (blue shirt) with the main cast of Marriage Story at its New York premiere

Baumbach’s film left me with mixed opinions. It was odd seeing the actors I knew as the terrifying Kylo Ren and the elusive Black Widow playing a mundane New York couple with an 8 year-old son, but their acting was impeccable and the pair’s Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations are well deserved. Laura Dern’s Golden Globe win for her role as Nora was expected, as Dern portrays the quirky-seeming lawyer with the right balance of poise and creature-like cunning. And the non-Globe and Academy nominated actors deserve just as much recognition for their contributions in making a beautiful film. This movie perfectly portrays divorce from both sides of the couple, showing inside the minds of both partners instead of focusing heavily on the woman (or the man, in some cases).


Driver plays Charlie Barber as a tough, successful man who is secretly being torn apart from the inside out because of the searing effects of his struggles with Nicole. His range of emotions throughout the film shows a beautifully illustrated picture of a three-dimensional male character. From what I’ve seen, Johansson had been much more type-casted in the past as the sexy, sleazy, sneaky femme fatale (i.e. The Avengers franchise, Black Widow, Lucy, Match Point). But her performance in Marriage Story was, in my opinion, her most beautiful. Putting her outside of her supposed Hollywood type-cast resulted in one of my favorite performances by Scar Jo.

One aspect of the film that left me a little confused was that of the script. The story that this movie told was beautiful, but a few of the lines raised some questions with me. There were moments that seemed too crafted and seemed much more in the realm of a YA novel rather than something based on true events. If you do your research, you know that Marriage Story is based off of a real divorce that Baumbach went through before beginning his relationship with director Greta Gerwig. But a few of the lines felt manufactured and exaggerated to the point of me almost cracking a confused grin. I know for a fact that a few lines in that movie from Charlie’s side would not bode well with any woman in real life. And a few of Nicole’s lines do not portray her as a strong independent woman, but rather as a selfish b-word, making one pity Charlie. The fact that the lines were written to make you pity both parties was a great choice, but they could have been said a little differently.


If I had to give a solid opinion of the movie as a whole, I would say that I agree with the critics’ ratings. The movie in and of itself was smartly structured with the right amounts of charm and gut-wrenching drama. If you and a significant other need a movie to cry over together, then this is the movie for you. The acting from each cast member was carefully orchestrated and yet felt so real. I applaud Noah Baumbach for his incredible dive into the real-life struggles of divorce and the honesty he brings to the film. Marriage Story is a must-see movie for those who are a fan of either comedy-drama or of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. Unlike many movies that center around divorce, this film is an amazing deglamorization of something that plagues millions of families everywhere and affects people’s lives in the long run.

The author: Grace Ortiz

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