In light of it receiving more critical praise and awards attention than any of his other films, it’s easy to fall into two camps on Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, out this week from Criterion. The first camp is to assume that it represents an actual leap forward for Baumbach creatively, which I would say it does not; Baumbach has consistently (give or take While We’re Young and even that one’s pretty good) delivered films on this level of excellence for the last 15 years, even when the films have been met with indifference or outright hostility. The second camp is to take the defensive position and say that Marriage Story represents Baumbach selling out and watering down his bitter style, which I would also say it does not. Maybe critics and Oscar voters viewed it that way, but Marriage Story is a brutal piece of work and not just in the ways it’s about a nasty divorce. The divorce is just a means to which Baumbach can share his thesis that relationships, both personal and professional, are built so completely on performance that there might not be any shred of our true selves left. This is most obvious with the trio of lawyers, especially Laura Dern as a high-functioning automaton who sells her clients’ feelings back to them, but also with how stubbornly Adam Driver clings to his roles as father and husband, like he’s afraid for the possibility of having no identity outside of those roles. The much-ballyhooed (on both the positive and negative sides) argument scene is terrifying not because Driver and Scarlett Johansson are being mean to each other but because they’ve become trapped in a black-box theater version of their own lives. It’s the middle-aged sequel to Kicking and Screaming, the young man’s terror at leaving his comfortable position becoming the older man’s existential crisis at anything threatening that position.
Anyway. Criterion is also finally giving Abba Kiarostami’s Palme d’Or-winning Taste of Cherry something other than a non-anamorphic DVD, the brilliant 1080p resolution making the cherry taste even clearer than before (I have not seen Taste of Cherry). Paramount is continuing their “Paramount Presents” label with double-dips of Airplane! and Ghost, with new 4K restorations of both but bafflingly minus many of the special features from previous releases of both. Universal is continuing in Sony and Warner’s footsteps by bringing everybody’s favorite Kubrick to 4K, Spartacus. And Warner is finally, definitively washing its hands of Scoob!, the hideous attempt at a Hanna-Barbara cinematic universe that COVID made even more of a damp squib than it would’ve been had it made theaters. It is now of interest solely for Edge of Seventeen‘s Kelly Fremon Craig being the sole screenwriter for awhile into its production, even though she apparently didn’t have enough impact on the final product to get credit alongside the six(!) credited screenwriters.
Life Is a Long Quiet River (Arrow)
Marriage Story (Criterion)
Spartacus 4K (Universal)
Taste of Cherry (Criterion)