Venice Film Festival reviews for the Scarlett Johansson/Adam Driver project call the marital drama Noah Baumbach's best film yet

By Joey Nolfi
August 29, 2019 at 02:42 PM EDT
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Noah Baumbach‘s Marriage Story might chronicle the bitter breakdown of a relationship, but film critics at the Venice Film Festival have written a fairytale ending for the first chapter of the film’s potential awards season run.

Starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as Nicole (a Los Angeles-bound actress) and Charlie (her stage director husband), Marriage Story — which world-premiered Thursday at the Italian festival — charts the demise of their once-blissful union as they wage a grueling custody battle for their young son (Azhy Robertson) with the help of family (Merritt Wever, Julie Hagerty) and legal counsel (Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda).

The first reviews for the film have hailed it Baumbach’s best work to date, a distinction made by The Hollywood Reporter‘s Jon Frosch, who describes it as “a tough piece of work, steeped in pain” and brought to life by the “sensational leads, who deliver the deepest, most alive and attuned performances of their careers.”

Writing for The Wrap, Alonso Duralde calls the film “poignant, hilarious, heartbreaking saga” that, through Baumbach’s handling of devastatingly emotional material, the writer-director “cements his reputation as one of this generation’s leading humanist filmmakers” who coaches “the best from his performers” with regards to Johansson and Driver’s work.

Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman similarly champions the film as one that’s “so accomplished it elevates the writer-director of The Squid and the Whale to a whole new level,” and admits that, after decades of working in the film industry, it serves as “Baumbach’s breakthrough into the dramatic stratosphere. At once funny, scalding, and stirring, built around two bravura performances of incredible sharpness and humanity, it’s the work of a major film artist, one who shows that he can capture life in all its emotional detail and complexity — and, in the process, make a piercing statement about how our society now works.”

Marriage Story — which next travels to Oscar-positioning film festivals in Telluride, Toronto, and New York — is expected to receive a limited theatrical run on Nov. 6, followed by a Netflix premiere on Dec. 6. Read on for more reviews of the film out of the 2019 Venice Film Festival, which runs through Sept. 7.

Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
Marriage Story is the Noah Baumbach movie we’ve been waiting for. It’s better than good; it’s more than just accomplished. After 10 features, released over a quarter century of filmmaking (his debut, Kicking and Screaming, came out in 1995; his other films include The Squid and the Whale, Greenberg, and Frances Ha), this, at long last, is Baumbach’s breakthrough into the dramatic stratosphere. At once funny, scalding, and stirring, built around two bravura performances of incredible sharpness and humanity, it’s the work of a major film artist, one who shows that he can capture life in all its emotional detail and complexity — and, in the process, make a piercing statement about how our society now works.”

Geoffrey Macnab (Independent)
“Divorce clearly brings out the best in writer-director Noah Baumbach. This is his finest film since The Squid and The Whale (2005), which was inspired by the break-up of his parents’ marriage. It allows its two stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver to give memorably raw and tender performances in roles a very long way away from superhero type in either Avengers or Star Wars. Baumbach strikes a near-perfect tone, combining humour and pathos. He also occasionally takes a step back to show just how pampered and self-indulgent these two warring spouses really are. The Netflix-backed film (a world premiere in competition at the Venice Festival) is bound to be compared to Kramer vs Kramer as an example of very superior schmaltz.”

Eric Kohn (IndieWire)
Marriage Story brings a lot of baggage to the table: It’s a divorce saga about a wealthy showbiz couple that burrows into the emotional turmoil of their split, and the plight of whiny, privileged white people is not exactly in vogue. But the power of Marriage Story stems from the way it transcends the simplicity of its premise, with writer-director Noah Baumbach matching the material for his most personal movie with filmmaking ambition to spare, and a pair of devastating performances from Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson that rank as their very best. The brilliance of the movie lies in how it starts from a familiar place, then sneaks into transcendence.”

Jon Frosch (The Hollywood Reporter)
“Viewers who dug the relative mellowness of Baumbach’s last effort, 2017’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), should brace themselves: Like Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage — an inevitable influence — this is a tough piece of work, steeped in pain that feels wincingly immediate (it’s based on Baumbach’s own divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh) and unsparing in its willingness to observe, at sometimes startling emotional proximity, good people at their worst. It’s also funny and, when you least expect it (and most need it), almost unbearably tender, thanks in large part to the sensational leads, who deliver the deepest, most alive and attuned performances of their careers. Marriage Story puts you through the wringer, but leaves you exhilarated at having witnessed a filmmaker and his actors surpass themselves.”

Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
“With Marriage Story, Baumbach cements his reputation as one of this generation’s leading humanist filmmakers. Since 2005, he’s had an extraordinary run of films — The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg, While We’re Young, Mistress America, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and his masterpiece, Frances Ha — with deeply flawed, often exasperating characters who are nonetheless always capable of growth and redemption. This latest film certainly fits that category, and it once again demonstrates Baumbach’s ability to get the best from his performers. It’s difficult to call either Johansson or Driver a ‘revelation’ here on the heels of so much strong work in recent years, but both manage to outdo themselves.”

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