I'm gradually coming around on Noah Baumbach. For too long, I thought of him as that Wes Anderson guy, which is unfair because 1) he hasn't worked with Anderson all that often, and 2) I'm not much of an Anderson fan and that's not Baumbach's fault. Marriage Story is the fourth movie I've seen directed by Baumbach (I didn't care for Margot at the Wedding, but liked The Squid and the Whale and especially Frances Ha), and I think it's the best of the four.
I've seen Marriage Story described as a love story that uses a divorce to tell its story, which if nothing else makes the title in the running for Irony of the Year. Yes, Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) are in love, or were. And I can see that we're supposed to experience the realities of the marriage through the lens of the couple breaking up. But Baumbach, who also wrote the script, is so good at showing what's wrong with Charlie and Nicole as a couple that, for me, it overwhelms the good times they enjoyed. This is one reason it's such a good movie, but it can be excruciating to watch. I constantly thought about how lucky I am to have avoided divorce, because based on this movie, divorce sucks.
It is not surprising that the film builds to a big Oscar-bait scene where Driver and Johansson give us Charlie and Nicole at their most vicious to each other. It's heartbreaking, and the actors are great. But it's almost unbearable. (It also reminded me of a similar all-out fight in Before Midnight, but in that film, we had two-and-a-half films to get to know the characters, while in Marriage Story, we only get two hours, so the fight in Before Midnight hurts more.)
The cast helps, as well. I'm a Scarlett Johansson fan, and Marriage Story is one of her best (over all of them, though, I'm still partial to Ghost World). I've liked every non-Kylo Red movie Adam Driver has been in, and it's good to see him in a leading role. Laura Dern is a potential Oscar nominee, Ray Liotta is Ray Liotta, and Merritt Wever is incapable of a bad performance.