Noah Baumbach’s latest film Marriage Story easily ranked as one of the best films of 2019, a gripping story of how a relationship crumbles overtime. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson both gave phenomenal performances as a couple on opposite sides of a custody battle, and despite their impending divorce, they still deeply care for each other. Baumbach had already established himself as a filmmaker who can write clever dialogue and memorable characters, and Marriage Story is one of his most mature and affecting films to date.
While Marriage Story is a breakthrough film in how it details modern relationships and breakups, there are similar films that handle these themes in different contexts. Additionally, Baumbach, Driver, and Johansson all have past work that they drew upon when making Marriage Story. Here are ten great films to watch if you liked Marriage Story.
10. Blue Valentine
Prior to Marriage Story’s release, Blue Valentine was considered to be one of the most essential breakup films ever made. Both films share similar qualities; they tell the stories of a couple’s relationship in nonlinear fashion, utilizing flashbacks to show a mixture of happy and tragic memories. The inherent tragedy in both films is that the audience is left wishing that the couple would get back together, despite numerous examples throughout the story proving that they are incompatible.
The major difference between the two films is that while in Marriage Story the characters played by Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are largely compassionate towards each other, the couple played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are often cruel to each other and seem only bound by their similar past tragedies. Unlike Marriage Story, which shows how two loving people can grow apart and want different things, Blue Valentine depicts a couple that became trapped within an unhappy existence.
9. Cafe Society
Noah Baumbach is often compared to Woody Allen, as both filmmakers tend to write films centered on intellectual New Yorkers who deal with issues of ego and lack of fulfillment. Allen has many classics worth celebrating, but one that has flown under the radar is his recent effort Cafe Society. Jesse Eisenberg (whose breakout role was in Baumbach’s own The Squid and the Whale) stars as Bobby, a novice writer who travels to Hollywood to work for his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), a famous producer. Unfortunately, both men have fallen for the same woman- Bobby’s secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart).
Like Marriage Story, Cafe Society explores a relationship that is offset by unforeseeable circumstances and competing ambitions. Bobby and Vonnie are bound by their similarly naive idealism and unfamiliarity with the inner workings of Hollywood, but Bobby can’t compete with his more ambitious and successful uncle. Eisenberg and Stewart are instantly charming and make the doomed relationship enjoyable to watch, and the film in general is one of Allen’s better recent efforts.
One of Marriage Story’s great achievements is balancing the perspectives of both partners equally, and another recent film that does that is the highly underrated science fiction romance Comet. Written and directed by Sam Esmail, the genius creator of Mr. Robot, Comet explores the relationship between Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum), two science enthusiasts that meet on the night of a meteor shower. The twist is that the film takes place over six alternate realities in which the characters encounter each other.
Although the structure is untraditional, the essence of the relationship between the two is never lost, as they encounter many of the same issues in each reality. Dell is adamantly pessimistic and Kimberly is a fervent optimist, and though they share similar interests, their affections are often drowned out by their differences. Marriage Story was notable for the surprising amount of humor, and Comet has a similar comic edge that comes from the extended back and forth quips between Long and Rossum.
Beginners is a film like Marriage Story that explores the complex nuances of love and family in a modern complex, and uses pointed flashbacks to show the subjective nature of memory. Ewan McGregor gives one of his best performances as Oliver, a designer who learns that his father Hal (Christopher Plummer) has hidden from him the fact that he is both gay and dying of cancer. As Oliver deals with this, he falls in love with Anna (Melanie Laurent), a French actress who inspires him to look at things in a different way.
Like Baumbach, Mike Mills has emerged as a filmmaker who can consolidate many onscreen relationships into poetic and thought provoking micro stories. The relationship between Oliver and Anna is largely told through meditative monologues that Oliver delivers, and Mills does a phenomenal job at writing unpretentious characters who are honest about their feelings. Christopher Plummer won an Academy Award for his wise and wistful performance as Oliver’s father.
Adam Driver has been hailed by many, including Martin Scorsese, as being the best actor of his generation, and his performance in Marriage Story has commonly been referred to as the best that he has ever given. It would be impossible to deny the power of his Marriage Story performance, but Driver was similarly excellent in Jim Jarmusch’s highly underrated film Paterson. Driver stars as the titular character, a bus driver in a small town who writes poetry as he observes his day to day life.
Paterson is incredibly relaxing and poignant, as the nearly plotless nature of the story allows the audience to experience the world in the same way Driver’s character does. It’s interesting to see how Paterson draws on his experiences to create his work, and in turn how his poetry inspires him to look at the world in a different way. Any fan of Driver will not want to miss this charming film.