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Adam Driver plays stage director Charlie, separating from his actress wife, Nicole, played by Scarlett Johansson. Despite their desire for a seamless split, their high-powered lawyers (Laura Dern, Alan Alda and Ray Liotta) have other plans.
Baumbach’s compassionate eye on the material is rooted to some extent in his own experience. The director explored his own parents’ divorce in his 2005 film The Squid and the Whale, and his 2013 divorce to actress Jennifer Jason Leigh was the subject of many tabloid stories.
Johansson, who divorced from Ryan Reynolds in 2011 and Romain Dauriac in 2017, said that her reasons for joining the film were immensely personal.
“There’s so much of all of us in this film that’s out there for everyone to see,” she said.
Johansson originally met with Baumbach to discuss the film not knowing what it was about. “When I met with Noah, I was going through a divorce, and I didn’t know what we were meeting about at all. And he didn’t know I was going through a divorce.”
“I probably just blew into the room and ordered a glass of white wine and started complaining, and he was just listening and very attentive,” she said of their meeting. “And then he kind of cut it short and said, ‘Funny you should mention it.'”
Baumbach described it as a project she would either really want to do or really not want to do. “It felt sort of fated in a way,” said Johansson. “It was an experience to share with him and have him share with me. And it somehow came at just the right time.”
“It was something that I discovered in writing it that when something stops working, you actually acknowledge it or recognize it for the first time,” said Baumbach at the festival’s official press conference. “Through a divorce we could explore a marriage.”
Baumbach described casting Alan Alda as a lawyer as “the lawyer you can’t help but want to hire and watch what happens when you have to fight Laura Dern.”
Dern described playing a divorce lawyer as a character the audience would love to hate. “Their job is to say ‘I care about your version of the story. Tell me everything. I’ll be your best friend. I’ll be your therapist. And then I’m going to win you what you think you want.’ It’s very complicated,” Dern said. “You don’t even know it’s happening to you until years later when everyone is broke.”
Marriage Story premieres in Venice on Thursday. The film will hit U.S. theaters for a limited release on Nov. 6 before streaming on Netflix on Dec. 6.
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