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  • Laura L. Van Tassel, Esq.

Marriage Story -Real Life vs Hollywood


Netflix's "Marriage Story," which was released on December 6, follows Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they navigate divorce while raising their young son. Marriage Story is a 2019 drama film written, directed and produced by Noah Baumbach. It stars Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, with Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, This film as received critical acclaim, including Best Motion Picture – Drama, with Dern winning Best Supporting Actress.


The film focuses on the relationship between Charlie (Adam Driver), Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) as they navigate divorce while raising their young son. At first, Charlie and Nicole agree to have an amicable divorce. The movie opens with the couple in divorce mediation with the mediator suggesting that they each write down what they like about one another. As we learn later in the film, just as Nicole was not feeling ‘heard” in her marriage, she was not feeling heard in the mediation session, so Nicole refuses to read her notes and walks out of the session. After this mediation mishap, Charlie and Nicole drag their feet looking for another mediator, and things are made significantly complicated by the fact that Nicole then decides to move across the country to pursue an acting job. 


Hollywood tends to portray divorce in shades of black and white with most divorce attorneys portrayed negatively because conflict is what drives a story. This is why the film introduces a secondary character “Litigation.” The film highlights how the process of divorce litigation can escalate a conflict, despite the best intentions of the spouses involved. By ceding control to their respective attorneys, each character’s perspective became weaponized, with grim results. 


Without giving away the whole movie, to me, the story is about communication. What this movie illustrates, as much as anything, is that too often, lack of communication can lead to divorce, heighten hostility between partners, force couples to communicate exclusively through their lawyers, put ugly feelings on display and into the public record, and drain financial resource. The result? No one gets what they want. A once-loving couple is devastated. Families are torn apart. 


I always say that “Communication is just as important in a marriage as it is when dissolving one.” What they both needed to do was to address Charlie’s affair, notably, the affair happened for a reason (I know clients do not want to hear this, but there normally is a reason they strayed) - so he needed to confront her on the marital issues but he did not and down the rabbit hole they went. 


The point is this couple was not aware of their options. As a lawyer, I have become a passionate advocate of alternative divorce methods including mediation and the collaborative process which lead to more positive familial outcomes than litigation. If they would have been in my office I would have suggested the collaborative process which is best when one or both parties do not trust themselves to speak up adequately during such an emotional and vulnerable time and when more. In the collaborative process, a team of specialists is brought in to educate and assist you and your spouse on how to effectively communicate with each other.


( See The Comparison of Divorce Options below)

Had Charlie and Nicole returned to the less costly alternatives; mediation and the collaborative process in Marriage Story, the outcome would have likely been much different. This would have made for a far less interesting movie, but real-life parents considering divorce should ask themselves: Do they want a peaceful and amicable divorce or the kind of gut-wrenching outcome that movies are made from?

Better understanding between couples doesn't always mean that the relationship can survive, but it can lead to a kinder, less costly, successful co-parenting outcome. Which I call a Win-Win!


It can be hard to know whether mediation or the collaborative process is right for you and your spouse. Feel free to call me today (201) 664-8566 for a confidential talk.