There is a lot to like about writer/director Noah Baumbach's new film "Marriage Story." It's a well-written, well-acted, honest and compelling look at a couple in the final days of their relationship.
Yet "Story" never quite comes together as a whole, with some parts of the film as messy as the two main characters divorce.
Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver star as Nicole and Charlie. Nicole is an actress who left Los Angeles to be with Charlie and help her husband establish himself as a respected stage director in New York.
When Nicole gets a chance to return to L.A. to film a pilot, she starts to consider her choices - and her marriage. This leads to the couple agreeing to what they hope is an amicable separation.
But when Nicole hires a no-nonsense divorce attorney (Laura Dern in a performance that has garnered some Oscar discussion), things start to get more difficult - with both sides digging in no matter the cost or damage to everyone in their lives, including their young son.
Driver and Johansson are both very good in roles that are not easy to play. These characters are shown warts and all, characters you like one moment then completely understand why the other person doesn't want to be with them anymore the next moment.
Dern brings a little flash to her role, but perhaps the best performance in the film comes from Alan Alda as an attorney that understands there is no such thing as an easy divorce. A scene where he explains to Charlie how things will play out, a play by play that Charlie finds unsettling, is one of the highlights in "Story."
Another strong moment comes late in the film, a disagreement between the couple that evolves into an ugly shouting match.
In those moments Baumbach really brings to life just how hard a break-up can be.
Less effective is Baumbach's attempts to make this a fair story with both sides giving equal blame. No matter how hard he tries, you can't help but feel like Nicole is given the short end - painted as the villain more often than Charlie.
It may not always hit the mark, but Baumbach - and the talented cast - finds enough dramatic punch to leave an impact with a film that isn't always easy to watch but is certainly worth your time.