Marriage Story Review

*****

Marriage Story is Noah Baumbach’s masterpiece, a tragicomedy of human relationships that gets everything right. Anchored by pitch perfect performances from Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, this forensic study of a certain kind of divorce elegantly, faultlessly rides the bittersweet path: every scene, and practically every moment, is simultaneously deeply sad and very funny. That’s not just skilled filmmaking, it’s a kind of alchemy.

The stakes are high but accessible: there is a child, Henry, who is about six years old; the splitting couple each have work on either side of the United States (he in NYC, she in LA); both want Henry to live on their coast. Without money and property being foregrounded, the story remains deeply human and humane: Baumbach shows deep empathic compassion for both his leads, and for us as an audience. We are not forced to pick sides. Their professional world – of the grant-subsidised NYC theatre and uncertainties but big bucks of series TV – is rarefied and simply rare, but Baumbach’s script and direction is so incredibly specific, so full of rich and precisely observed detail, that the whole is entirely relatable; that old adage, find the universal in the specific, is entirely and successfully at play here.

If there is a villain, it’s lawyers and a legal system that reflects the misnomer of the “United” States: California and New York have rival systems, and god forbid you break up in both of them simultaneously.

The deep bench of supporting actors do superb work: Laura Dern, Ray Liotta and Alan Alda as the attorneys, Julie Hagerty and Merritt Wever as Johansson’s family, Wallace Shawn as a workmate and Azhy Robertson as Henry. Driver and Johansson deliver career-bests and will both be nominated for Oscars. Driver may win.

This may be the best film of 2019. It’s right up there. Unmissable.

Logan Lucky

LL_01221

*** (out of five)

Steven Soderbergh returns from a self-proclaimed retirement from theatrically-released feature filmmaking with what he’s best at (and the modern cinematic master of) – the genial ensemble heist comedy.

Having presumably seen The Italian Job (1969) an awful lot during his formative years, Soderbergh exquisitely nailed the form over and again with Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve and Ocean’s Thirteen, and the spirit inherent in those films – friendly, upbeat, light, gently funny – infuses The Informant! and Magic Mike as well. In each of these films Soderbergh deploys an exceptionally cast ensemble whose characters are all unique, well-rounded and truely likeable. By the time the credits roll, all you want to do is hang out and drink beer with this scoundrels, scallywags and hustlers.

Logan Lucky is not the precision near-masterpiece that Out of Sight is, nor as tight or funny as the Ocean’s films, but it’s certainly got all the requisite qualities, and by the end, the same effect (which, as you’ll see in this film, applies significantly). It goes down smooth and easy. The heist itself (a racetrack during a motor race) is clever if not breath-taking, the milieu (West Virginia) amusing and pretty if not exotic, and the jokes raise a smile rather than provoke a laugh. But you really see Soderbergh for the characters, and every one here – played by Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough and in particular Daniel Craig – delights. (There is also a large further ensemble of recognisable faces such as Katie Holmes, Katherine Waterston, Seth MacFarlane, Jim O’Heir, Dwight Yoakam, Hilary Swank, Macon Blair and Sebastian Stan.)

Craig is a fabulous actor. Going completely against type when your type is Best Bond Ever, he plays a tattooed cracker safe-cracker. His Southern accent may not be vocal-coach pitch-perfect, but nobody’s is (they’re all doing them), and who cares? Unlike with his Bond, Craig’s incredible eyes here pierce you not with their intelligence but their simple self-belief – a fine but impressive distinction.

Have fun! Soderbergh and his actors clearly did. So did I.