"I don't know how to start," Charlie (Adam Driver) tells Nicole (Scarlett Johansson).
Exhausted, mentally and financially, in the middle of their divorce proceedings, Nicole had walked up to Charlie suggesting, "...we should talk." All this while Nicole and Charlie look at each other like you look at someone you remember to have met once but can't figure out when and where.
When relationships start to fall apart, it seems easier to strike a conversation with a stranger than have a civil discussion with a partner of years.
Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story is a tale of two people in the grip of love and hate scripting an end to their marriage. Only they aren't sure who should write its final lines — the two together or their lawyers.
When people are together, they hold back from saying a lot of things. But that 'lot' accumulates in the darker and deeper recesses of the mind. When love turns into war, the 'lot' is turned into verbal weapons and hurled at each other with full ferocity. The strikes are brutal because they almost always catch the target unaware.
People may still have some care left for their partners, but their lawyers don't. Divorce lawyers aren't paid to care for your partners. For that you have marriage counsellors. Counsellors care for you. They care for your partners. They care for your marriage, or at least pretend to. Lawyers are paid to get you the best possible 'deal'.
And when people pay bounties to their lawyers, they have to listen to their counsel and follow them too.
Charlie and Nicole are an artist couple living in New York. Both work in the theatre. Nicole, a former teenage movie star (and a child of Hollywood), is a leading performer in the stage company that Charlie himself directs. Nicole feels suffocated professionally in this marriage. She decides to walk out on Charlie.
Charlie and Nicole surprise and bruise each other with their words and actions, both individually and through the people they pay to sort out the mess, and yet the wreck left behind in this war is only reflective of the hurt they have suffered as individuals.
Break-ups seldom end without blame games. Why would they end otherwise?
There's a whole range of artwork that has delved into how relationships fall apart. There are umpteen movies on why people untie nuptial knots, but none so fine on how they do it.
Marriage Story is a story of marriage going through divorce. Of two people taking stock of how much they gave of themselves to the marriage and what remains of them. Charlie and Nicole are fighting for the custody of their child Henry Barber (Azhy Robertson). The fight for the child is also a fight for ego. At what point Nicole and Charlie are battling for their child and when for the ego is difficult to tell.
Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play Charlie and Nicole with finesse. And director Noah Baumbach plays fair to both by not getting into who is right and who wrong.
On the advice of their counsellor, who the couple visits in a last ditch attempt to save their marriage, they pen down the things they liked about each other. They never read that to each other. But the letters are read to the audience.
And the letters explain why no one's wrong and no one right. It's Complicated.
Should you watch?
Yes! If you are a couple, cuddle and watch. If you are unfortunately going through a break-up or divorce, watch with a friend.
If you are single, watch to reaffirm to yourself that you just thought the grass is greener on the other side. It isn't.
Watch because Marriage Story is no sob saga. It deals with divorce tenderly and maturely.