SPOILER-FREE Review: “Marriage Story” starring Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson

This Netflix movie (released also 30 days in theaters) is based in large part on director Noah Baumbach’s own experiences when he divorced actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2013. Jason Leigh (the “Jason” was added as tribute to actor Jason Robards- a close friend of her parents), on whom the character of Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) was based, had early success in the teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Baumbach and Leigh previously collaborated on movies together; during the 2009 filming of Greenberg, he and actress/director of Little Women– Greta Gerwig- fell in love. Theater director Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) lived in Indiana before moving to NYC; Driver grew up in Mishawaka, IN. The toys shown while Nicole plays w/ son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in the opening are from Star Wars, a reference to Driver’s connection to that sci-fi franchise. Celeb divorce lawyer, Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern- now winner of Best Supporting Actress Oscar), is loosely based on Laura Wasser (who represented Dern, Johansson and Baumbach) during their divorces. The mediation scenes were filmed in Wasser’s office building.

This film has something for everyone– domestic drama, comedy (arising from realistic situations), music, courtroom drama, etc. Charlie sings Being Alive (which Gerwig admitted Baumbach wouldn’t do), and Nicole sings You Could Drive a Person Crazy from Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company. Many of us know that Johansson can tackle challenging roles (having seen her since she was an ingenue at 16 y.o.); here Driver gets a chance to shine (and whoa, is he bright)! Both actors are very comfortable with each other; they play the quiet and intense scenes well. You really don’t see the acting- as it should be. You will see some similarities to Kramer vs. Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep; however, in this story- the wife gets an equal voice (which wasn’t given to Streep).

The supporting actors are all well-suited for their parts, no matter how small or meaty. The child actor comes off as very natural. Merritt Wever plays Cassie’s older sis (also an actor); she provides some comic relief, as does the mom (who is a big fan of her son-in-law). Charlie’s theater troupe includes a few familiar faces, such as Wallace Shawn (best know as the villain in The Princess Bride). Alan Alda’s soft-hearted lawyer breaks down what men really go through in a divorce. On the other hand, we see the intimidating/shark-like lawyer (Ray Liotta) who gets results.

6 thoughts on “SPOILER-FREE Review: “Marriage Story” starring Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson

  1. I see you liked this. I finally saw it maybe three weeks ago. I was disappointed. I thought the whole film was very unrealistic both on the plot level (you can’t just move to CA to file for divorce; they have residence requirements) and on the dramatic level. There’s no way a real life couple would fight like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmmm, don’t know much re: divorce proceedings (esp. when couple has kid). I do know several women who divorced bit younger- 25-35 y.o. but they luckily had no kids & NOT much assets to fight over. I heard this story was partly based on Baumbach’s divorce from Jennifer Jason Leigh, but he also interviewed many divorced ppl. As for the (non-legal) fighting, I thought it was mostly realistic (b/c maybe I myself have few dramatic relatives)- LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been in three really “serious” relationships in my life, and two of them involved a lot of unpleasant fights. I just think any couple who fought like that would either die of apoplexy or walk away from each other. Or maybe in a worst case, hit each other. Especially that really long fight scene came across as completely unthruthful to me.


  2. This is on Netflix, which i have, but which I never look at. I really want to see this one. I guess this is proof of something I’ve often thought, which is that films like Kramer v. Kramer would never make it a theatre these days.


    • I think it’s cheaper (& easier) for studios to go through Netflix now- that’s why SO many filmmakers are going that route. Also, I recently read a few articles where critics mentioned that it’s also a way to get around censors (for creative ppl in certain countries).


      • I’m sure it has all kinds of advantages — just that it’s not how I prefer to consume movies. I’ll see it sometime, I’m sure!


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