One of the great mysteries of the 2019 awards season has been, What does Jennifer Jason Leigh think of “Marriage Story”? The actress had a high-profile public split with the film’s writer-director Noah Baumbach dating back to 2010, and his new movie partially draws on that separation to tell the story of a couple (Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson) falling apart. Baumbach and Leigh’s divorce was finalized in 2013.
According to Baumbach, Leigh is a fan of the movie, which agonizingly details how warring professional ambitions can destroy a partnership. (Driver is a theater director who wants to stay in New York, and Johansson plays an aspiring screen actress fleeing for Los Angeles.) There’s also the challenge of raising a small child and how it has killed any feelings of romantic love between the two.
“I showed her the script,” Baumbach told WSJ magazine. “And then I showed her the movie a little bit ago. She likes it a lot.”
Baumbach is now partnered with Greta Gerwig, with whom he worked for the first time during the making of “Greenberg,” which was released in 2010. That’s also the year the Oscar-nominated “The Squid and the Whale” filmmaker broke up with Leigh. (A 2013 New Yorker profile of Baumbach and Gerwig reiterated that these events were not related.) Gerwig, like Baumbach, is an Oscar contender this year as the director of “Little Women.”
Gerwig is also apparently a fan of the movie, and Baumbach said the fellow director had an emotional response the first time she saw it. “I think the first time I showed it to her, she watched it in the cutting room and sent a photo of herself crying after the opening montage,” he told WSJ. That opening montage cuts back and forth between Charlie (Driver) and Nicole (Johansson) as they explain what they love about each other — but it turns out to be a post-breakup exercise mandated by their couples’ counselor.
Leigh and Baumbach also worked together on “Greenberg,” but he gave her one of her best vehicles ever with “Margot at the Wedding,” in which she plays the embittered, soon-to-be-married sister of Nicole Kidman’s angry, neurotic writer. Like “Squid and the Whale” before it and now “Marriage Story,” Baumbach’s “Margot” paints an unsavory and at times devastating picture of marriage and relationships in general.