Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story screens here at the Venice Film Festival today, laying bare one couple’s divorce while also keeping love in the picture. “Even though they are coming apart through the movie, love always exists. It’s in every scene with them,” Baumbach told the press corps this afternoon of the Netflix title that’s produced by David Heyman.
The couple in question, stage director Charlie (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) is seen through a journey that includes dark drama, screwball comedy, legal procedural and even show-stopping musical. It’s also a very personal, yet expansive, story about which Baumbach had early conversations with the actors before a script was written.
Asked about prep for Marriage Story, Johansson said, “Because there’s so much of all of us, I think, in this film that’s out there for everyone to see, to talk about the source is very personal. I will say that when I met with Noah, I was going through a divorce and I didn’t know what we were meeting about… I think I probably blew into the room, ordered glass of white wine and started complaining.”
Baumbach “was listening and attentive, but also he said, ‘Funny you should be talking about this. It’s probably a project you’re either going to want to do or not want to see, we’ll see how you feel about it.'” Ultimately, a “sort of fated” and “cathartic” experience for Johansson, it also “came at just the right time,” she said.
Baumbach discovered in writing the film “that it’s almost when something stops working that you actually recognize or acknowledge it for the first time. I thought that through a divorce, we could explore a marriage.”
He added, “The movie begins when they are already apart or don’t realize how apart it’s going to get. I wrote it in a way to put me in the space of where they were, what’s a day in the life of these people? And to explore the ordinary, because the ordinary of course in all our lives is exceptional.”
For Driver, working on the film felt like theater. “There is a theme of theater and performance: The theatrics of getting a divorce. You’re kind of performing for a judge and mediators,” he said. The early discussions with Baumbach also “allowed us to go deeper, faster. Working with Noah feels like a conversation starts with the seed of an idea that doesn’t end. Even now we’re talking about themes we didn’t think of.” Agreed Baumbach, “Adam still calls me for a character he played two movies ago.”
Of the writing process, Baumbach added, “To know these actors were playing the parts, it really did push me.” There is a particular monologue delivered by Laura Dern as Nicole’s attorney that the actress called “a delicious Christmas gift.” Baumbach said the writing was easier doing it specifically for Dern who also added a key line.
Baumbach also noted he cast Alan Alda as an attorney for Charlie because, “he’s exactly what we’ve all projected onto him growing up watching MASH, like a father figure. You put Alan in the role of the lawyer you can’t help but hire, and watch what happens when he has to face Laura Dern.”