The brutality of the argument scene in ‘Marriage Story’
(Credits: Netflix)


The brutality of the argument scene in ‘Marriage Story’

Authenticity is the holy grail for most actors and filmmakers, with most creatives striving to make their movies as realistic as possible. Independent movies usually make this authenticity easier to achieve for actors, especially in comparison to Hollywood, which regularly resorts to melodrama.

American cinema often falls foul of this, with such mainstream movies as Madame Web or Jurassic World: Dominion often lacking emotional gravity due to their sheer absence of authenticity, with characters feeling like AI-created stick figures who achieve impossible feats with apparent ease. Yet, Hollywood cinema isn’t reflective of America on the whole, with the independent scene having long thrived with intricate tales that pierce inside the complexity of the human mind. 

The films of Noah Baumbach do just this, with the director of such mumblecore classics as Greenberg and Frances Ha crafting movies that feel like a direct slice of life. The humble mumblecore movement steadily petered out towards the 2010s, but Baumbach’s distinctive style remained, with the director and screenwriter going on to create Marriage Story in 2019, a breakup movie that made you feel as if you were one of the warring parties.

Exploring the complexities of intimate relationships with a scalpel and headlamp, Baumbach’s tale details the lives of theatre director Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and former actress, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), as their once loving connection turns sour. Despite seeking a relationship mediator, their former love is unsalvageable, and Nicole finds a lawyer to secure her a better deal in their eventual divorce. 

Such sets up a tragic breakdown between the pair, as decades of love and resentment boil down to weeks of cold bureaucracy in which they battle for custody of their child, Henry, and any morsel of passion for one another blows away in the breeze. Though keeping relatively amicable throughout the proceedings, the fragility of their psyches reaches a peak during one extraordinary argument.

Frustrated by the exhausting legal process, the pair meet up in private to sort their differences, but, while they intended the conversation to be civil, it soon turns emotionally violent with Charlie and Nicole trading blows with the intention of one-upping the toxicity of the previous comment. Shortly after the duel has begun, one realises, thanks to Baumbach’s superb writing, we are witnessing a truly sensational bout of on-screen performance. 

As if plucked from the peak of a real-life relationship, Driver and Johansson attack each other with verbal venom that feels so palpable that it may as well be a punch to the gut. Never have emotions been so palpable and so transparent on screen, with decades of resentment spilling out from the pair of them, sweeping aside any and all mental blockades as they dig deep for the nastiest ammunition. 

Cinema has, indeed, seen some great arguments over the generations, but none can compare to the sheer authenticity of Marriage Story. Fit with voice cracks, familial comparisons, and violent outbursts that, in hindsight, feel laughable, no film has better captured the fury, pettiness, love, hatred, passion, fear and catharsis of a destructive argument with the person closest to your soul.