‘Marriage Story’ Isn’t Based On A Real Divorce — It’s Based On *Many*
His new movie Marriage Story marks the second time that writer/director Noah Baumbach has approached the subject of divorce onscreen. His 2005 feature The Squid and the Whale was based on his experience of his parents splitting up when he was a child. And this latest film (in limited theatrical release Nov. 6 and coming to Netflix Dec. 6) tracks the bicoastal separation of a couple, which may share some similarities to Baumbach's own divorce from actor Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2010. In many ways, Marriage Story is a true story — just not of one specific divorce.
Talking to Indiewire, Baumbach explained of the film, "It’s extremely personal for me, but it really became this thing where I felt like everybody was bringing themselves to it.” That includes Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, who play East Coast playwright Charlie and actor Nicole. Nicole's career in L.A. is taking off, but Charlie's entire life is based in New York. The disconnect complicates the divorce they'd hoped to keep friendly, especially as they decide custody arrangements for their young son. Lawyerly machinations grow increasingly tense and brutal, and the pair end up breaking promises they'd made to keep things civil.
Questioned by Deadline about whether the film was influenced by his own divorce, Baumbach remained evasive. "Of course, I have a real connection to the material," he said. "I was also at that time in my life where many of my friends were getting divorced ... 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." He also utilized the real-life experience of Johansson, who came to the film unexpectedly prepared for the role as she was going through a divorce with her second husband Romain Dauriac in 2017.
Speaking to Variety, Johansson said she didn't know when she met the director what his next film was about — for years, the project was only known as "Untitled Noah Baumbach Project" on IMDB, and it was only when she told him about the state of her relationship that he let her know this would either be a perfectly timed project or something she'd reject right away based on where she was at the moment. Of the coincidence of life meeting art, the actor ultimately concluded that “it felt sort of fated in a way." She continued, "It was an experience to share with [Baumbach] and have him share with me. And it somehow came at just the right time.”
Many articles have noted the similarities between Johansson's and Baumbauch's divorces and the events in the film. (Deadline noted that "it's hard not to see the autobiography" in Marriage Story, for example.) But considering what a common, relatable situation the movie depicts, there's bound to be some natural overlap with the lives of the people making it. Baumbach reiterated to IndieWire that he built Marriage Story's characters and plot using a wide array of details from many stories, including his own, to get at the larger truth of divorce, something he compared to a type of death. “I just felt like there was a way to make a movie that was both very much about this subject and also totally transcend it,” he said. You can decide whether or not it does that when Marriage Story hits theaters and Netflix.