The 30th Annual New Orleans Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday night on a solid note with writer/director Noah Baumbach's bittersweet Marriage Story.
A New York theater director (Adam Driver) and his actress wife (Scarlet Johansson) are getting divorced. Driver wants to stay with his theater company in New York, but Johansson wants to move back to her native Los Angeles for a TV opportunity. They have a son (Azhy Robertson) and both want custody. So, the couple must try to battle through their personal resentments, pain, and hostilities without hurting their son.
Baumbach (Frances Ha, While We're Young) opens the movie with a clever gambit: essentially 10 minutes of showing us all of Driver and Johansson's good qualities. So when the ugliness starts (and things do get ugly), it stings because the audience knows these aren't truly bad or evil people tearing each other to shreds.
The pacing lags sometimes, and you do feel the film's 136-minute running time. But overall, it works. Baumbach's script gives the actors plenty of opportunities to shine, and they take full advantage of them. There's a decent chance of Oscar nominations for Driver and Johansson. However, they're not the only performers who turn in excellent work here. Laura Dern continues her recent renaissance as Johansson's lawyer. Alan Alda reminds everyone why he's an acting treasure with his turn as Driver's kindly-but-forthright attorney.
Marriage Story will be coming to Netflix in December, and is tentatively scheduled to open at the Broad Theater on November 27.