Opinion: Was the acting in ‘Marriage Story’ really that good?

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With the Oscar season now having passed, the cinematic face mask more or less has been shed, allowing a new slew of movies to make their way to theaters. During this time I had reflected exactly what makes these movies that were nominated so reputable.

Seeing “Parasite” being nominated as well as being chosen to win was fairly clear, given the circumstances of being the first foreign language film that isn’t just put in the foreign language category, among talent and powerful storytelling. “1917” set a new precedent for filmmaking style, and while the idea of a movie being shot to look like it was all in one day isn’t exactly novel (at least for the cinephile, it isn’t), it also comes with great performances and groundbreaking special effects among other things. “Marriage Story” was in talks, and while not exactly winning awards due to how strong the competition was, the acting was what was honed in on as the creme-de-la-creme of what makes this movie valuable.

While to me, these are career best performances for Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, they read to me a little too similar to their blockbuster counterparts in Marvel and “Star Wars” respectively, Driver playing Kylo Ren, almost to be compared to an 11-year-old Fortnite player on randomized online voice chat, and Johansson playing Black Widow, a former Russian spy who happens to be on the same team as a 15,000-year-old Nordic legend and a flesh and blood green meteor. 

Besides the point, they have the enormous undertaking of being in the most popular franchises at the current moment, and with that comes a lot of pressure to perform their characters, which are known for being larger than life, to the best of their ability. They do exactly that, and to excess, as each is anywhere from three to seven movies in. 

However, it seems a lot of actors get stuck in wanting to play that character for the rest of their life, and while “Marriage Story” doesn’t have the exact same experience, you can feel the last gasp of their characters in their performances. 

With a movie that is focused on telling something that is an authentic snapshot of a real life experience, there isn’t that much room for a larger than life character, especially with the manic outbursts of Kylo Ren or the moral ambiguity of Black Widow, which usually entails a lot of flat line delivery to make sure that we don’t know what she is thinking. Not exactly ideal, however, for a story where we want the opposite, but both of these make an appearance in the movie.

It seems to culminate in the final scene, a fast paced amalgamation of the emotional turmoil of the movie. You get a long scene of their final fight before divorce, and Johansson is doing a perfectly fine job, but you don’t get any emotion from her until close to when the famed final line by Driver that drove the metaphorical nail in the coffin of the marriage. And then all of a sudden Driver’s character punches a wall. 

What? Where did that come from? There wasn’t any lead up to it nor would a fight that short in duration ask for a response like that. That is what plagues the acting, where these are the kinds of responses their characters would have, which is why the chains of their blockbuster ankle weights rattle in this film.

“Marriage Story” definitely delivered on a few tears out of me, but there is a misplaced sense of satisfaction in saying that the performances were masterful like so many people in YouTube interviews and film twitter comment threads have been espousing for the past four months since the film’s debut. We need to recognize actors and actresses still have room to grow, even at what is perceived as their “best.”