Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Marriage Story (2019)

Image is property of Netflix

Marriage Story  – Film Review

Cast: Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta

Director: Noah Baumbach

Synopsis: As their marriage starts to fall apart, a couple living at opposite coasts of the United States go through a difficult divorce, that threatens to push the pair of them to breaking point…

Review: The day that two people tie the knot and agree to spend the rest of their lives together is usually a joyful, momentous occasion. However, through a plethora of circumstances, that romance and joy can regrettably diminish. Consequently, a couple begin to break apart and regrettably there comes a time when their marriage comes to an end, and they make the painful decision to divorce. Such circumstances would undoubtedly be extremely difficult. So it is to director Noah Baumbach’s immense credit, that he captures the pain and heartbreak of that process in such an emotionally powerful manner.

Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) have spent many years happily married, and have a son together. Yet, their relationship has deteriorated and they have made the difficult decision to divorce. The matter is significantly complicated as Charlie is a theatre director, who has his theatre commitments in New York.  Meanwhile Nicole has moved to the West Coast of the USA to pursue her career in acting, leaving their son Henry in a far from ideal predicament. Though both Charlie and Nicole strive to ensure that the process be as amicable, and as complication free as possible, things start to go sour and the situation threatens to push them both to breaking point.

As the main couple in the film, both Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are nothing short of phenomenal in their performances. As a couple, they have strong chemistry, their romance feels so raw and authentic that you no longer see the actors, but rather the characters that they are portraying.  The script firmly takes a neutral stance, in that it doesn’t paint one as the hero, and the other a villain. Like anything in life, there are two sides to every personal struggle, and Baumbach’s strong script and expert direction shifts perspectives to allow the audience to see where both of them are coming from.

Despite the divorce, it’s clear that both Charlie and Nicole have strong feelings for one another, and want to do what is best for their child. However, as the divorce process goes on, it threatens to turn them completely against each other. With sublime leading performances from Driver and Johansson, Laura Dern threatens to steal the show, with a scintillating performance as a lawyer who has been recruited to help deal with the proceedings. She’s a consummate professional, but when push comes to shove, is not afraid to be ruthless, especially when it comes to defending her clients.

The strength of Baumbach’s script lies in its ability to make you laugh one minute, and feel immense sorrow the next. There’s something so raw and powerful in, not just everyone of the performances, but how he handles the devastating drama beating at the heart of this story.  Irrespective of whether you’ve been through a divorce, or seen your parents go through a divorce, or you haven’t been in this situation at all, it will be next to impossible to not be emotionally impacted by the film in some capacity. But if you have, you’ll certainly be able to appreciate the film that much more. The mix between comedy and drama is for the most part well handled. There may be a happy and joyful scene, but at any given moment, it will flick that switch in a heartbeat.

Though occasionally, the shifts in tone don’t entirely work. With one moment in particular, the drama is offset by an out-of-the-blue musical performance. While this is undeniably touching, it does feel completely out of place in the context of the scene. Having said that, it doesn’t negate the emotional gravity of the story, and its ability to tear your heart into a million pieces by the time the credits have begun to roll.

Emotionally raw, with sublime leading performances, Marriage Story presents a sincere and heart-breaking look at the humanity of the people going through a divorce, and the devastating impact that this heavy situation can have on people’s lives.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Farewell (2019)

Image is property of A24

The Farewell  – Film Review

Cast: Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Zhao Shuzhen, Lu Hong, Jiang Yongbo

Director: Lulu Wang

Synopsis: After receiving the heart-breaking news that her grandmother has terminal cancer, a young woman flies over to China to be with her beloved grandmother and her family. However, to ease her pain, her relatives have vowed to not inform their matriarch of her fatal diagnosis….

Review: There’s something special and unique about the bonds that we share with the people that we call family. Whether they live just a few blocks away, or maybe across an ocean, the bonds that family members form can be unbreakable and resolute. Within the first few minutes of this semi-biographical film from Lulu Wang, she establishes one such connection between a woman and her dearly beloved Grandma (or Nai Nai as she’s affectionately known). Instantly, from the first few minutes, we are reminded of the power that this institution can have over our lives.

The centrepiece of this heartfelt drama is Billi (Awkwafina), a struggling writer living in New York City. When Billi learns of her Grandmother’s terminal diagnosis, an impromptu celebration is organised so that everyone can bid their matriarch farewell. The only thing is, due to cultural traditions, everyone is under extremely strict instructions not to disclose anything relating to her diagnosis so as to ease her suffering, and let her enjoy her final few weeks of life. Having grown up outside of this cultural tradition, this approach does not sit well with Billi. As the gathering gets started, the entire time, Billi finds herself immensely conflicted.

Having made her name with, and nearly stolen the entire show in Crazy Rich Asians, Awkwafina gives a heart-wrenching, powerful performance. It’s a very different role when compared to her one in Crazy Rich Asians, but one that she pulls off magnificently. Right throughout the film, there are moments where you can just see this conflict eating away at her, and at numerous times, she seems like she might crack. However despite her intense frustrations, at the urging of her other relatives, she strives to hold firm and maintain the pretence. Though other relatives have their moments with her, the spotlight is firmly on Nai Nai’s relationship with Billi, which is built on nothing but unequivocal love and respect for one another.

For a film that features a family saying goodbye to a dearly beloved relative, it would seem unlikely to have comedy woven throughout the story. However, Lulu Wang’s screenplay expertly combines the comedy and drama, and the results are entertaining and poignant. This balancing act mainly comes down to the wonderful performance of Nai Nai (Shuzhen). While everyone around her is fighting so hard, repressing their sadness, this lady remains blissfully unaware of everything and living her life without a care in the world. In a world where humanity can become cocooned by our own cultures and ways of life, it’s always fascinating to see another culture be brought to a wider audience. Furthermore, irrespective of their own culture, any audience member can appreciate, and be moved by, the traditions of the culture on screen.

The importance of family, and everything that this institution can teach us all as human beings has been depicted in movies before. Therefore, it is to this film’s immense credit that it manages to provide a refreshing take on this important theme and message, with a story that will almost certainly tug on those heartstrings. What’s more, for those that are blessed to still have their grandparents with them, it ought to make them want to reach out and ensure that they take heed to any pearl of wisdom that their grandparents can impart, and to cherish every second of time that you’re able to spend with them.

Poignant and comedic, anchored by a powerful performance from Awkwafina, The Farewell is an emotional family drama that will touch the hearts and minds of any audience member, regardless of culture or creed.