By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, this phenomenal movie is not only my favorite film of this year’s AFF, it is definitely one of the top films of the year. I went into this film preparing myself for a thoroughly heart wrenching, sorrowful affair, but was wonderfully surprised at how much humor the movie actually has. I have to hand it to the writing and direction Noah Baumbach who delivers a slightly comedic take on divorce, but still leaves enough room for the drama to do some veritable heart-breaking.

Adam Driver stars as New York theater director Charlie Barber. He and his actress wife Nicole have been married for several years and have a son named Henry (Azhy Robertson). Things are not currently going well in the couple’s relationship. And when Nicole pursues an acting opportunity in Los Angeles, this sets in motion a very real separation. After an awkwardly bad attempt at marriage counseling fails to reconcile the husband and wife, Nicole actively pursues divorce proceedings.

Now I realize my synopsis makes this movie sound like an absolute downer, but believe me; this movie delivers an incredible balance of both comedy and heartbreak. Noah Baumbach has written his best screenplay since The Squid and The Whale and does an extraordinary job with the direction as well. Marriage Story is about as true to life as a fictional movie can get this year, and accomplishes this feat without any special tricks or gimmicks. It is a pure example of intimate and personal storytelling, beautifully captured on camera.

Both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson deliver the performances of a lifetime. I have not seen another movie where these talented actors have given performances of this caliber. Their respective contributions to this movie deserve multiple acting nominations in all film awards at the end of the year. The movie also can boast great supporting turns by Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, Julie Hagerty, and Merritt Wever. I would have to say that Dern, Liotta, and Alda are the genuine standouts as three very different divorce attorneys involved in Charlie and Nicole’s proceedings. It is a real treat to see these three acting gems offer some riotously funny performances.

And I feel that the superbly written and executed comedy in the film helps soften the inevitable heart punch that comes with a movie about divorce. Noah Baumbach manages to make this “marriage” of comedy and drama work so tremendously well that I feel it is movie that will be studied and analyzed by future generations of screenwriters and filmmakers. Marriage Story is getting a limited run in theaters before it gets a wider release on Netflix on December 6. The movie will open in three Austin, Texas theaters (AFS Cinema, Southwest Theaters at Lake Creek 7, Violet Crown Cinema) on Friday, November 29.

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