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It was the beginning of “Mar­riage Story” that did it for me.

The Oscar-nom­i­nated film opens up with a soon-to-be-divorced couple recounting what they each love about their estranged spouse (at this point the viewer has no idea that they are, indeed, estranged). Charlie Barber, played by Adam Driver, has the first line.

“What I love about Nicole…” 

As Charlie recounts Nicole’s (played by Scarlett Johansson) endearing per­son­ality traits and quirks, the audience members are taken on a panoramic trip of their past life.

“She really listens when someone is talking.” 

The camera cuts to Nicole lis­tening to an animal rights activist outside the subway with a sign-up sheet, nodding her head with sin­cerity. 

“She cuts all our hair.” 

We’re shown Charlie sitting on the edge of the bathtub as Nicole plays barber. The scene repeats with their 8‑year-old son as Charlie watches. 

“And it’s not easy for her to put away a sock, or close a cabinet, or do a dish, but she tries for me.” Camera cuts to Charlie hitting his head on a kitchen cabinet door left ajar. 

As Charlie con­tinues to list what he loves about Nicole—her gift giving, her par­enting, her sense of humor, her inge­nuity — the audience falls more and more in love with their rela­tionship. I know I did. 

“What I love about Charlie…Charlie is undaunted.” 

Now we get Nicole’s per­spective, which is just as heart-wrenching as Charlie’s. 

In a way this sequence at the beginning of the film is the most pow­erful and telling of the entire movie. The audience sees the genuine love and con­nection Charlie and Nicole have for each other, which makes their sep­a­ration so ago­nizing. 

Mar­riage Story is suc­cessful because it starts with the real­ization that what Charlie and Nicole had was real. And even as they fall out of love, they are con­tin­ually reminded — as well as the audience members — that their bond remains (as flash­backs to the film’s opening scene attest). Thus this opening scene is nec­essary because it is pivotal to the structure and under­standing of the movie as a whole. 

Ulti­mately, “Mar­riage Story” is suc­cessful because it tells a story well — the story of Charlie and Nicole and their failed mar­riage. Instead of seeing each char­acter as a villain, we see their strengths and their flaws with the nec­essary backdrop of their shared history and attachment. We see the genuine depth of their very human rela­tionship, and we relate it to our­selves.