Released: 6th December
Seen: 7th December
This year I don’t think I’ve been that kind to Netflix original movies. As I look back, most of the year I’ve called them anywhere between average to awful with very few bright spots on the way. It almost feels like I was picking on them but I probably wasn’t any meaner to them than any other production company, they just happen to be the one where I have to visit a site labelled with their name so it’s easier to associate them with the bad product. I can’t forget that I saw Sextuplets on Netflix, it started with their logo and the only way to see it is to go to their site. Meanwhile A Dog’s Purpose, my worst film of 2017, has associations with Universal, Amblin, DreamWorks and Walden Media and I don’t even think of it as being a movie by any of those companies, I just see a bad movie.
Netflix is in a position that you’d think they’d have more quality control since they are plastering their brand name on every movie they purchase but this year really has shown they’re desperate to buy up as much content as possible. It seems like every other day another company seems to be pulling content for their own services so Netflix is working hard to build up a back catalogue. Most of the year they’ve been unloading the crappy stuff that’ll kill an hour and now we’re in the time of year they’re just churning out stuff for Oscar season and we’re finally getting to see why they’re actually a force for good in the industry. Dolemite Is My Name showed them taking risks on a biopic of someone that mainstream audiences wouldn’t know, The Irishman showed them turning to a legend of cinema and saying “Go make the dream project you’ve been wanting to make for years” and now we have Marriage Story where Netflix shows that they’re willing to give a platform to the kind of heartfelt emotional storytelling that doesn’t tend to be marketable… and also it’s just really good.
Marriage Story is brilliant from the start and only gets better with every passing scene. It follows Nicole Barber (Scarlet Johansson) and Charlie Barber (Adam Driver), a married couple who have clearly gotten to the point where they still care about each other but can’t handle being together anymore and so separate and divorce. The film slowly walks us through the process, starting at an almost amicable place where they both agree to do this without lawyers and ending up in explosive fights over past adultery, drinking and the welfare of their son Henry (Azhy Robertson). Through the entire ordeal you see what brought them together, why they’re better off apart and just how a tiny part of them still cares for each other. It’s a heartbreaking and funny story, somehow balancing the sorrow and the humour so carefully in a way that feels real.
From eight minutes in, I knew this movie was something special. It captures the audience that quickly with the simple set of montages where the main characters describe what they like about each other. That opening scene is enough to make you know if you’re going to be into this film. It displays the expert specific writing that makes these characters feel real. It lets the actors show a wide range of what you can expect from them, instantly allowing you to believe they’ve been married a considerable amount of time. It also just hits you in the gut with emotions, showing how the film is going to play with the humour and the heart. If you get to 10 minutes and you’re into this film, you’re in for a treat.
The entire movie plays out with little touches that defy the rules of film and just play everything so realistically. A scene where Nicole seems to be cold and distant then completely breaking the second she’s out of Charlie’s sight feels like something we’ve all done, putting on a brave face that barely even holds until you can leave the room is just a perfect touch. The scene that absolutely killed me was a moment where one of the characters says something so horrible that they could never take it back and instead of doing the dramatic movie moment of storming out on a gut punch… this movie lets them break down and sob and apologise instantly, like one would in a real argument. It all feels so real, probably because it’s inspired by the writer/director’s actual divorce and he clearly put every bit of himself into the script and hoped his actors would do the same with their performances.
Scarlet and Adam work together so well that I want them to do a dozen movies together in different genres just because they bring out the best in each other in every single scene. It’s masterful, there’s so many little details that I want to just watch the film at half speed so I can try to catch everything that’s being done. These are performances that should shoot them both to the top of anyone’s list of potential Oscar nominees. Especially Driver who just pulls out all the stops and creates a performance that’ll get you smiling one minute, make you hate him the next, then break your heart a second later all in a single take because it’s just that good.
Everything about Marriage Story is just great, from the perfect framing to the incredible performances to a script that’s so meticulous I wouldn’t be stunned to learn that it included when to breathe. It’s the kind of film that just grabs you and pulls you in before you have a chance to complain, it’s just generally wonderful in every way one could hope a dramedy about divorce would be. Go stream it and get ready for the inevitable waterworks that’ll follow.