Raise your hand if you shed a few tears (or many more) while watching the trailer for Netflix’s Marriage Story. The dramedy, which has received basically nothing but praise since it premiered at the Venice Film Festival, stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver as a former couple going through divorce and custody proceedings. And the thing that adds a deeper level of authenticity to Marriage Story are the real relationships and people that inspired it. If the premise wasn’t enough to make you emotional, its backstories sure will.
Those who've seen the teaser clips have already experienced Marriage Story's ability to tug at heartstrings after watching Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) each explain what they love about each other, before the harsh reality kicks in: Now, they're in a courtroom for their divorce trial. The movie will show how the relationship fell apart from both the wife and the husband’s perspectives, examining love, loss, and the legal system’s role in ending a marriage all under the microscope. That’s because writer and director Noah Baumbach did a lot of work and research to make sure it wasn’t just another generic movie about heartache.
Baumbach and his ex-wife Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight, Atypical) divorced in 2013. So he's got a pretty recent roadmap for the dissolution of a marriage, but the events in his latest feature don’t soley draw from his own experiences. The director, whose parents are also divorced, spoke with Deadline about his connection to the film, calling it a “personal” project.
“Of course, I have a real connection to the material,” he said, noting that when he was writing the film, he also had two close friends going through a divorce. And thus, his breadth of research expanded. From there, he decided to dig even deeper into the lives and heartbreaks of those around him.
“I saw it as an opportunity to do something more expansive, and so I did a lot of research. I interviewed a lot of my friends, and friends of friends, and then also lawyers, judges, mediators, because I wanted to get a broad look at: what are all the iterations?" he explained.
All that research allowed Baumbach to get truly, deeply honest about everything that happens around the breakup of a marriage. “You have a legal system that brings in lawyers, judges, evaluators and mediators. There are all these [professionals] that suddenly become part of your professional experience,” Baumbach explained to Awards Daily. “Then family gets brought into it because it’s a rewriting of your marriage. So everyone who was involved in your marriage in some ways becomes a part of the divorce narrative.”
In approaching that cavalcade of characters, it was important to Baumbach, who's known for his meticulous details, that divorce lawyers weren't depicted as money-obsessed villains, as they are sometimes portrayed in television shows or movies. Instead, Baumbach says there are no good or bad guys in Marriage Story, there are just the realities of divorce. “Another part of the story is that these people lose control of their own narrative, and they lose their voice at a certain point because the lawyers take over for them,” he told Awards Daily.
But at the film's core, Baumbach wanted to make sure his Marriage Story was ultimately about the love that still exists, even as many marriages are ending. That's what drew the eye of the film's producer, David Heyman, who told The Hollywood Reporter, "It's a beautiful piece of writing ... What I loved about it was that it was a love story. No matter how hard they went at it, you still never question the love that they have for one another."
So between his own experience, his parents and friends' experiences, and the experiences of everyone Baumbach interviewed, Marriage Story was set up to be almost unusually real and incredibly personal. Good luck getting through it without tissues.
Marriage Story is in theaters now and hits Netflix December 6.