On Monday, December 9, nominations for the Golden Globe Awards were announced, which means that awards season is now in full swing. It’s a treasured time, especially for film junkies like myself, a time during which we can reflect on the best films and performances of the year. 


Madeline Brennan

AWARDS FAVORITE: Marriage Story premiered on Netflix on December 6, 2019. It stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson.

Madeline Brennan, News/Technology/Entertainment Editor

Arguably the best male performance of the year is Adam Driver for his role as Charlie Barber in Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’. As the title suggests, the film tells the story of a marriage… through the couple’s divorce.


The role of Charlie is one with a significant amount of material to grind through. Since the film is based on Baumbach’s own divorce, Charlie is very much Baumbach’s self-insert character, and the protagonist of the story.


Charlie finds himself in a difficult situation: his estranged wife Nicole (played by Scarlett Johansson) has hired a ruthless divorce attorney (Laura Dern) in Los Angeles, requiring Charlie, a proud New Yorker, to put his own career on the line in order to travel back and forth to handle the divorce and see their son, Henry.


Laura Dern’s Nora is ruthless and determined to paint Charlie as the bad guy in his relationship with Nicole. When Charlie hires an equally ruthless lawyer (Ray Liotta), much of the same happens, just vice versa. 


In this way, Baumbach successfully paints the system as the villain of the story. Both Charlie and Nicole are relatable and sympathetic characters, albeit with some serious flaws. Charlie can be stubborn and oblivious to the wants of other people, especially his wife, while Nicole is a naturally restless person who, throughout the movie, often caves to the wills and opinions of others, and in particular Nora. 


Johansson is horribly miscast in the role of Nicole. Baumbach understands that an actress cast opposite Adam Driver in a film about a couple getting a divorce has to be able to hold their own against Driver, especially in argument scenes; Johansson can’t. She has about four facial expressions that she uses in a regular rotation, and the fact that she has been nominated over the far more talented Lupita Nyong’o for Us, is maddening. 


Driver, on the other hand, gives the best performance of his career as well as the best male performance of the year. With a simple quiver of the lip Driver can portray more emotion than more experienced actors could with a monologue.


The range of his acting ability is best represented in three crucial scenes in the latter half of the film. The first is during a fight scene with Nicole, in which Charlie finally lets back all of the anger and frustration he’s been holding in a ruthless line: “Everyday I wake up and I wish you were dead!” Charlie screams. “Like, if I could guarantee that Henry would be okay, I wish you would get an illness and get hit by a car, and die!”


The pure amount of emotion Driver exhibits in two simple sentences is insane and unlike any other actor working today, especially how his voice, while still yelling, cracks when he mentions their son.


The second moment comes when Driver sings, in an impressively good singing voice, Stephen Sondheim’s Being Alive from Company. The song has a strong connection to Charlie’s journey in the film thus far, and Driver imbues an incredible amount of emotion into the song.


The final moment is at the end of the film, when Charlie reads the letter Nicole wrote to him at the beginning of the film. Driver perfectly portrays the subtle heartbreak of realizing that love has passed you by. 


Marriage Story is an entertaining watch as well as an emotional one. It manages to perfectly convey the complexity of human relationships as well as the hard ins and outs of divorce in a story that is raw, well acted, and human.