Watching Noah Baumbach‘s Marriage Story is one of those experiences where the impact of the tale depicted on screen is profoundly moving, but then quickly loses scale as days go by, melting into a pale memory of an emotion. Kind of like life.
In a way, that’s the beauty of it. How easily we can forget how good something used to be.
But what will stay with me for a long time are two scenes, one with Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), small and broken, narrating to her fierce, perfectly heeled divorce lawyer Nora (Laura Dern), how from being an individual success she became an accessory to her husband, melting into his life, seamlessly, giving up her identity for companionship. And the other, with Charlie (Adam Driver), an open wound refusing to see itself as such, in rage and despair at his wife, wishing her dead for pulling the rug under his feet, and taking away her contribution to his life, leaving him without the support he accepted as granted.
Both leads perfectly hit that elusive note of fragile human contradiction that could only come from an inner experience of real loss. And immense talent.
The exposure of the personal in public, when love becomes war, always carries within it a fundamental indecency, the prosaic dissecting the poetic. And the prosaic usually wins, as nobody outside a couple can really accurately assess the intimate space between them, least of all people hired to separate them, with benefits.
The story might be very personal to Baumbach, but this shorthand for a relationship dynamic where events escalate to the point of no return through the most microscopic of gestures, where no one is really to blame, but all have completely failed, are so universal, and so perfectly well played, that the writer/director perhaps achieved the almost impossible. An intimate public display of regret that actually works both ways.