Marriage Story is a 2019 drama film written, directed, and produced by Noah Baumbach. It stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, with Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, and Merritt Wever in supporting roles. The film follows a married couple, an actress and a stage director (Johansson and Driver), going through a coast-to-coast divorce.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Noah Baumbach|
|Written by||Noah Baumbach|
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Edited by||Jennifer Lame|
|Box office||$2.3 million|
The project was announced in November 2017, with the cast joining that month. Filming took place in Los Angeles and New York City between January and April of the following year. Released by Netflix, the film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019, and began a limited theatrical release on November 6, followed by digital streaming on December 6.
Marriage Story was praised for Baumbach's screenplay, the performances of Johansson, Driver and Dern, and Randy Newman's musical score. Among its many accolades, the film received six nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Driver), and Best Actress (Johansson). It also received a leading six nominations at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, as well as five at the 73rd British Academy Film Awards. For her performance, Dern won the Academy Award, the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Award, and the BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Charlie Barber is a successful theater director in New York City. His theater company is producing a play that stars his wife, Nicole, a former teen film actress. The couple is experiencing marital troubles and sees a mediator, who suggests that they each write down what they like about one another, but Nicole is too embarrassed to read hers aloud and they decide to forgo the counseling.
Nicole is offered a starring role in a television pilot in Los Angeles, and she decides to leave the theater company and temporarily live with her mother in West Hollywood, taking the couple's young son Henry with her. Charlie decides to stay in New York, as the play is in the process of moving to Broadway. Despite the couple agreeing to split amicably and forgo lawyers, Nicole hires Nora Fanshaw, a family lawyer. Nicole tells Nora the full story of her relationship with Charlie and how she gradually felt neglected by him and how he rejects her ideas and desires. Nicole also reveals that she thinks Charlie slept with the stage manager of the theater company. Charlie flies out to Los Angeles to visit his family, revealing that he has won a MacArthur Fellowship grant, but Nicole serves him divorce papers. Charlie meets with Jay Marotta, a brash and expensive lawyer who urges Charlie to fight dirty, but Charlie returns to New York without hiring him. He receives a call from Nora, who urges him to get a lawyer soon or risk losing custody of Henry. Charlie returns to Los Angeles and hires Bert Spitz, an empathetic and retired family lawyer who favors a civil and conciliatory approach.
On Bert's counsel, Charlie rents an apartment in Los Angeles to be closer to his family and strengthen his custody case. Charlie wishes to avoid going to court, so Bert arranges a meeting with Nora and Nicole. Nora argues that Charlie refused to respect Nicole's wishes to move back to Los Angeles and that Henry would prefer to stay with his mother rather than fly back and forth between coasts. Bert privately advises Charlie to drop his New York residency altogether, but a frustrated Charlie refuses and decides to fire him.
Using the first payout of his MacArthur Fellowship grant, Charlie hires Jay on retainer. The case moves to court, where Nora and Jay argue aggressively on behalf of their clients and attempt to paint the other party in a negative light. Nora highlights Charlie's past infidelity and emotional distance, while Jay exaggerates Nicole's drinking habits as alcoholism and threatens criminal action for hacking into Charlie's emails. Meanwhile, Charlie and Nicole remain friendly out of court and share time with Henry, who is increasingly annoyed with the back and forth.
Disillusioned with the legal process, the couple decides to meet in private away from the lawyers. A friendly discussion in Charlie's apartment devolves into a heated argument; Nicole claims that Charlie has now fully merged with his own selfishness, and Charlie punches a hole in a wall and says he wishes that she would die. He then breaks down in shame and apologizes; Nicole comforts him. An appointed expert evaluator monitors a night in with Charlie and Henry, during which Charlie accidentally cuts himself. Soon after, the couple agrees to relax their demands and reach an equal agreement to finalize the divorce, although Nora negotiates slightly better terms for Nicole, against Nicole's wishes.
A year later, Charlie's play has a successful Broadway run, while Nicole has a new boyfriend and is nominated for an Emmy Award for directing an episode of her show. Charlie informs Nicole that he has taken a residency at UCLA and will be living in Los Angeles full-time to be closer to Henry. Later, he discovers Henry reading Nicole's list of things she likes about Charlie she wrote down during counseling. Henry asks Charlie to read it aloud to him, and Charlie does so, becoming emotional as Nicole watches from afar. That evening, after attending a Halloween party together, Nicole offers to let Charlie take Henry home even though it is her night. As Charlie walks out to his car carrying a sleeping Henry, Nicole stops Charlie to tie his shoe for him. He thanks her, and they part ways once more.
- Scarlett Johansson as Nicole Barber, Charlie's wife
- Adam Driver as Charlie Barber, Nicole's husband
- Laura Dern as Nora Fanshaw, Nicole's lawyer
- Alan Alda as Bert Spitz, Charlie's second lawyer
- Ray Liotta as Jay Marotta, Charlie's first lawyer
- Azhy Robertson as Henry Barber, Nicole and Charlie's son
- Julie Hagerty as Sandra, Nicole's mother
- Merritt Wever as Cassie, Nicole's sister
- Wallace Shawn as Frank
- Martha Kelly as Nancy Katz
- Mark O'Brien as Carter Mitchum
- Matthew Shear as Terry
- Brooke Bloom as Mary Ann
- Kyle Bornheimer as Ted
- Mickey Sumner as Beth
- Robert Smigel as Mediator
- Rich Fulcher as Judge Neil Tilden
- Lucas Neff as Pablo
- Tunde Adebimpe as Sam
The idea for the film first came to Baumbach in 2016, while in post-production on The Meyerowitz Stories. He began to research the subject, and met with three-time collaborator Driver to discuss the role. In November 2017, it was announced Driver, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern, Merritt Wever and Azhy Robertson were set to star in the film. David Heyman produced the film under his Heyday Films banner, and Netflix produced and distributed. In March 2018, Kyle Bornheimer joined the cast of the film, and in June 2018, it was announced that Ray Liotta had also been added.
Principal photography began on January 15, 2018, and lasted 47 days through April 2018, taking place in New York City and Los Angeles.
Speaking of writing the film following his divorce from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, as well as his parents' divorce (which served as inspiration for his earlier film The Squid and the Whale), Baumbach said:
"I have a real connection to the material ... [but] I was also at a time in my life where many of my friends were getting divorced. I saw it as an opportunity to do something more expansive, so I did a lot of research. I interviewed a lot of my friends, and friends of friends, and then also lawyers, judges, mediators."
Following the release of the film, Baumbach said, "I showed [Leigh] the script and then I showed her the movie a little bit ago. She likes it a lot."
Marriage Story had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 29, 2019, and also screened at the Telluride Film Festival on August 31, 2019, and the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2019, where it was first runner-up for the People's Choice Award. It also served as the Centerpiece selection at the New York Film Festival on October 4, 2019, and the BFI London Film Festival on October 6, 2019. Netflix gave it a limited release in theatres beginning November 6, 2019, before streaming the film starting December 6, 2019.
In January 2020, it was announced that Marriage Story, The Irishman, American Factory and Atlantics would receive DVD and Blu-ray releases by The Criterion Collection. Marriage Story was released on July 21, 2020.
Although Netflix does not publicly disclose the theatrical grosses of its films, IndieWire estimated Marriage Story grossed around $160,000 from five theaters in its opening weekend (and a total $200,000 over its first five days). The site wrote that "normally, these (estimated) numbers would be disappointing," but "given the theaters and more limited seating, as well as awareness of imminent streaming access within the month" it was sufficient for Netflix. Playing at 16 theaters the following weekend, the film made an estimated $140,000, and then $340,000 from 85 theaters in its third. Expanding to 130 theaters in its fourth weekend of release the film made $360,000, for a month-long running total of $1.2 million. The following weekend, despite being released digitally onto Netflix starting the Friday, the film made an estimated $300,000 from 120 theaters, and then $120,000 from 80 theaters the following week.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 94% based on 376 reviews, with an average rating of 8.79/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Observing a splintering union with compassion and expansive grace, the powerfully acted Marriage Story ranks among writer-director Noah Baumbach's best works." On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 94 out of 100, based on 53 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Owen Gleiberman of Variety wrote, "At once funny, scalding, and stirring, built around two bravura performances of incredible sharpness and humanity, it's the work of a major film artist, one who shows that he can capture life in all its emotional detail and complexity — and, in the process, make a piercing statement about how our society now works." Alonso Duralde of TheWrap praised the acting and Baumbach's screenplay, saying, "One wonders if Baumbach left references to Kramer vs. Kramer or Two for the Road on the cutting-room floor, but either way, Marriage Story is a film that deserves to be mentioned in their company. It's devastating, essential, and destined to be remembered long after this awards cycle ends." In his review for The Hollywood Reporter, Jon Frosch concurred, writing: "Other American films about divorce have portrayed this phenomenon — the legal process driving and shaping the couple's feelings rather than vice versa — but none with the force and clarity of this one [...] It's also funny and, when you least expect it (and most need it), almost unbearably tender, thanks in large part to the sensational leads, who deliver the deepest, most alive and attuned performances of their careers." Rating the film 5 stars out of 5, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it a "wonderfully sweet, sad and funny film" that serves as a "glorious laugh-out-loud, cry-out-loud portrait of a relationship in its death throes" and praised the performances of the cast. Writing for The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4 and praised Johansson and Driver as the "two-person fulcrum around which this funny-sad, happy-harrowing movie revolves."
In a mixed review, GQ's David Levesley opined that the film was "fundamentally, a good piece of cinema", but disliked the unacknowledged upper-class privilege that the characters possessed, commenting: "The world of third-wave coffee, delicatessens and Upper West Side therapy has been done to death and does not speak to as much of the human condition as the people wading through it themselves seem to think." Armond White of The National Review also panned the film's bourgeois themes and the lead actors' performances, writing: "This story is really about class rivalry clouded by a sex-and-cinema surface. The obnoxious sentimentality of Marriage Story forces a filmmaker's self-righteousness on us ... It is Johansson and Driver who suffer Baumbach's superficiality. This is his least-bad movie only because the quality of the performances [of the supporting cast] is improved."
Marriage Story was chosen by the American Film Institute, the National Board of Review, and Time magazine as one of the ten best films of the year. The film received a leading six nominations at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, winning one award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture. The film received eight nominations at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards, three nominations at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards for the performances of Driver, Johansson, and Dern, five nominations at the 73rd British Academy Film Awards, and six nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards. Time Magazine's annual best performances of the year list by Stephanie Zacharek listed Driver as the third best film acting performance of 2019. Laura Dern won the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 92nd Academy Awards.
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