Noah Baumbach Explains How He’s Revisiting Divorce with ‘Marriage Story’

     July 24, 2019

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Noah Baumbach made a huge impact with his 2005 film The Squid and the Whale, which drew from his experiences as a child watching his parents’ divorce. Now he’s revisiting the subject matter with Marriage Story having personally gone through a divorce himself back in 2010 from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. While there’s obviously an autobiographical reading for the film—Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver play artists who want to live on opposite coasts and go through a legal custody battle—Baumbach tells Indiewire that he went beyond his own experiences to get into the nitty-gritty of divorce:

“I talked to lawyers and mediators,” he said. “It gave me an opportunity to ask them questions.” Some old feelings bubbled up. “Divorce is like death in a way,” he said. “When it happens to you, people can speak about it, but no one really wants to speak about it who’s not in it.” He laughed. “I just felt like there was a way to make a movie that was both very much about this subject,” he said, “and also totally transcend it.”

While other films have taken on divorce like Kramer vs. Kramer and Shoot the Moon, Baumbach reveals that one of his key influences with Ingmar Bergman’s Persona and its use of close-ups on faces:

“I knew I wanted a lot of closeups in this movie,” Baumbach said. “It’s a movie where you often have two people in a space together, and I loved how he would frame those actresses.”

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Image via Netflix

Baumbach also says that while divorce may be the plot of the film, it spans a lot of genres:

“I think there are a lot of hidden genres in the movie,” Baumbach said. “There’s a hidden thriller, a procedural, a romantic comedy, a tragic love story. I felt like this was a subject that could handle all those things.”

So why is a movie about divorce called “Marriage Story”? Baumbach explains that only through divorce do you really see how a marriage works, or, in this case, doesn’t:

“It was the name of the document when I wrote it, and the more I lived with it, it was the best and most resonant thing for this movie,” he said. “In exploring a couple divorcing, I felt there was a real opportunity to make a movie about marriage. It’s like when something stops working, you actually see it for the first time.”

Marriage Story will play on the festival circuit before debuting in theaters and on Netflix later this fall.

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