By BRUCE DENNILL
Marriage Story / Directed by Noah Baumbach / 16LS
The King / Directed by David Michod / 16VL
Miss Americana / Directed by Lana Wilson / 16
Marriage Story is a divorce story. It’s the slow unravelling of a relationship between two creative, capable, intelligent people, each reasonably wanting their own agendas to take priority and each, also reasonably, unwilling to fully compromise in order to make the other’s desires a priority. It is packed, beginning to end, with both the magical sparks that ignite love and passion and the barbed bitterness that is only possible when people are close enough to understand how to cut someone most deeply with the least possible effort. Director Noah Baumbach goes to some lengths to make the interactions of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) as realistic as possible, stuffing the script with his trademark overlapping dialogue, which reflects real-life conversational tics particularly well but also requires a fair bit of effort in terms of fully appreciating the nuances of each line. These nuances are particularly pronounced much of the time, as both characters pride themselves on the expert performance of lines – Nicole is a television actress and Charlie a theatre director. Ironically, those intersecting interests are part of what are pulling the couple apart, as Nicole’s future looks brightest in Los Angeles and Charlie is in the process of launching a production in New York. Superb acting from both the leads only intensifies the awkwardness, angst and agony of the story, making viewers as conflicted as confused as the characters as the hopeful ups and ominous downs of the crumbling relationship are navigated. An excellent, uneasy watch.
King Henry V would much rather not have been England’s monarch – he and his father were not close and, with the resources at his disposal, he was able to live a superficially exciting life outside the royal court growing up. But when he did ascend the throne after Henry IV’s death and started focusing his attention on claiming the French throne, his influence began to be felt. Timothee Chalamet as Henry V looks an unlikely leader, let alone warrior – a spindly, spoiled kid with entitlement issues and plenty of powerful people who didn’t like him. In his corner, though, was the canny John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton), the young king’s friend, advisor and mentor, and a man able to see the bigger picture more clearly thanks to his relatively advanced age and experience. It is largely the result of the trust shared by this pair and their combined nous and courage that see Henry and his forces meet with success on the battlefield, most famously at Agincourt. That battle is the action centrepiece of The King, and as stirring, seething and bloody a sequence as any in recent swashbuckling blockbusters. The piece only highlights a couple of chapters in the larger sweep of a rousing, bloody period of history, but it allows insight into smaller details such as the personality quirks of those involved as well as the shifts in international power and presence around Europe.
Miss Americana is a slightly misleading title for this documentary about singer-songwriter Taylor Swift, as Americana is one of the musical genres she’s probably least associated with that. Presumably, the word is used here in another of its senses – that of something alluding to the details of what make something American or, in Swift’s case, an icon that millions associate with being American. The focus of the piece is the singer’s struggle with fame – the complexities and torment of being famous, even after (or especially after), becoming famous and successful was the stated goal of her life and career. There is laudable honesty in the way that Swift reveals the psychology behind her need for adulation and the struggle to cope once that reverence becomes less than ubiquitous as celebrity feuds and stance-taking on various issues start to become part of the package. But there is also clear control of the narrative of the documentary, and brave as it is to allow viewers behind the mask on a million album covers, there is always a sense that Miss Americana is a shrewd shifting of the Swift brand, underlining what industry observers already know but packaging it for more casual fans. That brand remains impressive: Swift is hugely talented, fiercely driven and – now – more comfortable with her role as a spokesperson for a number of groups she represents, most notably women in general.
All of these titles are available for viewing on Netflix.