Oscars 2020: Why Marriage Story Should Win Best Picture

This feature was initially written for Zavvi prior to the Oscars ceremony. You can read the original publication here.


Marriage is a bitch. Or at least that’s how it is presented in Noah Baumbach’s deeply personal Marriage Story, an examination of a toxic divorce between two distant couples whose oaths they took as newlyweds are dissolving at the seams, the romanticism they once shared replaced by creeping resentment.

Yet Baumbach’s film is not just about a rotting relationship, it is also about parenthood and how childhood innocence is jeopardised by the ruthless divorce process.

With such human relatability, Marriage Story is somewhat of a mundane film, yet its resonance with so many, and in turn its placement among the impressive selection of films battling it out for Best Picture this year, goes to show that cinema is at its best when it concerns itself with the human experience.

The reasoning behind Marriage Story’s rightful contention for Best Picture lies within this beautiful mundanity. If one strand of cinema is concerned with escapism and spectacle, Baumbach’s cinema is personal and provocative, based upon kitchen‐sink realism and biographical expression.

Based loosely on his own divorce with actor Jennifer Jason Leigh, it would be easy for Baumbach to point fingers, to portray Scarlett Johansson’s Nicole as the villain of the piece; Adam Driver’s Charlie the objective victim.

There’s an admirable touch of subjectivity to the film, with both leads sharing enough screen‐time to show the viciousness of the divorce system from both sides.

And indeed, vicious it is. Through the surrogacy of Ray Liotta and Laura Dern as Charlie and Nicole’s lawyers respectively, Baumbach illustrates the sheer bluntness and emotional detachment of those who represent them.

Liotta and Dern complement each other perfectly, perhaps as much as the leading pair, whose cut‐throat resilience neglects the desired peaceful outcomes of their clients.

As Liotta and Dern chip away at each other, the camera unflinchingly observes Driver and Johansson as they cringe at the harshness of the unforgiving custodial process.

Yet it is Henry who is the true victim in Baumbach’s vision. His parents play a cruel game of tug‐of‐war, his outstretched arms being pulled by Charlie and Nicole as they fight for custody.

The child, who is played with such innocence by Azhy Robertson, is continuously flown across the country, East Coast to West Coast; a geographical divide that epitomises his parents’ fractured marriage.

He is shown to be regressing intellectually, struggling with the most menial of school tasks – a product of his childhood innocence slowly being taken from him.

These humanist themes – love, resentment, childhood innocence – are all reasons why Marriage Story deservedly earns its place among 2019’s heavy‐hitters. Yet there is also an argument that Baumbach’s film embodies a shift in how we consume films in this digital age.

It is common knowledge that a Best Picture win can boost a film’s commercial success post-release. But what happens when that film, despite its short stint in cinemas, was largely a Netflix exclusive? This raises an interesting point regarding its placement in the Best Picture race.

Granted, Marriage Story isn’t the only film representing the streaming goliaths at the Oscars as it shares its spot with Scorsese’s 209‐minute gangster epic The Irishman.

But without regurgitating the debate about whether streaming‐original films are deserving of awards recognition, it is paramount to understand that Marriage Story’s success, if it should win, would challenge the stigma against streaming services in contemporary film distribution.

With the likes of Scorsese, and in this instance, Baumbach, heading to Netflix HQ to fund their ideas, there is an argument to be made that Netflix are embracing auteurs in American filmmaking.

Marriage Story is a product of such progression, an auteur‐driven and stunning humanist drama that opposes the idealistic mainstream perception of on‐screen romance.

If Marriage Story should win, and that is a big if, it would be a remarkable achievement not only for Baumbach (who would acquire his first Best Picture win) but also for Netflix; whose victory would surely solidify their placement in Awards chatter.

Could Marriage Story do what Roma could not? Could it defy the odds; an underdog risen?

Does it even matter? There are no winners in Marriage Story, only losers; a marriage left tethered, a child split between two parents. Perhaps we could use this sensibility to applaud Marriage Story for even being nominated.

Whether it wins or misses out, Marriage Story has left its mark on all those who have experienced it. We laughed, we cried, but above all, we understood. Let’s just hope the Academy rewards such emotion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s