Certain movies offer the audience a chance to make a decision. For example, discussion surrounding a movie like “Inception” often revolves around whether the final scene is within a dream or not (No spoiler alert; it’s been out for almost 10 years).
While ambiguity in a film is good for getting your own creative juices flowing, it can sometimes distract from what else might be working throughout the rest of the narrative. If I said that “Inception” is really an allegory for the filmmaking process, would you immediately want to hop in on that conversation with well thought out arguments of your own? Probably not, possibly because most of your conversations on the film revolve around the final frame.
I bring this up because perhaps no movie conflict baits you more into deciding which side you’re on than a crumbling relationship. And, with that, you’ll probably find yourself trying to decide which of the two people you like better. In thinking that way, you may be too distracted to realize that some other really interesting stuff is happening in the midst of the relationship’s downfall.
Enter “Marriage Story,” written and directed by the realist Noah Baumbach. This is a movie about a transcontinental divorce that sees two people at their worst. Still, it manages to make both of our lead characters, portrayed by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johannson, out to be reasonable in their needs while being equally selfish in their wants. This kind of balancing act is difficult to pull off, but it is conveyed perfectly in “Marriage Story.”
In the former crowned champion of divorce movies, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” you either side with the father’s heroic growth or the mother’s distant ambition. But in “Marriage Story,” you get on well with both characters early on by spending time with each of them individually.
Both Driver and Johannson appear to be good parents, talented and well-meaning. Each of them bring admirable traits to the table. The trick of all of this is that the “picking sides” debate only clicked with me after the film was over, while in other movies you may try to decide in the moment. Baumbach doesn’t insist in his writing that you choose the more favorable party, allowing you to appreciate “Marriage Story” while watching it and while thinking about what it all means.
Sam Zavada is a copy editor with The Standard-Speaker in Hazleton. He previously served as the news clerk at The Standard-Speaker, working with the obituaries and the community and lifestyle pages. Sam’s work in print dates back to his time at King’s College, where he spent two years as the editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, The Crown. Earlier in his time with The Crown, he worked as a staff writer and the entertainment manager. Contact him at email@example.com.