How Netflix is selling the latest from writer/director Noah Baumbach.
There are countless movies that chronicle the beginnings of a relationship. Plenty capture the middle of a marriage as well, even if the focus isn’t on that couple but instead on others around them.
With this week’s Marriage Story, writer/director Noah Baumbach takes on the ending of a marriage, a phase that doesn’t get a whole lot of cinematic attention. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play Charlie and Nicole, a couple whose marriage starts out romantic and idyllic. Over time, though, cracks start to form as frustrations and tensions mount. Through it all, including their eventual divorce proceedings, the two must find ways to remain connected in part for the sake of their son Henry.
Netflix has given the movie a marketing campaign that emphasizes the way Charlie and Nicole have been, are and always be together and yet apart. Like many of its recent high-profile releases, Marriage Story received a limited theatrical release in advance of it becoming available for streaming subscribers this week.
(Note: I usually write these in advance of the theatrical release, but this one slipped by me so I’m publishing it as it comes to streaming. These things happen.)
The movie’s parallel storylines are made explicit on the pair of posters (by marketing agency BLT Communications) released in August at the same time as the trailer. One shows Nicole and the other Charlie, both of their silhouettes set against lightly colored backgrounds with a photo of the city they live in shown within the cutout.
Charlie and Nicole are shown with Henry in happier times on the theatrical poster from October. The couple is playfully embracing as Henry squirms at the bottom of the picture, a pose familiar to any kid who’s been caught in the middle when the adults decide to get a little mushy. It’s a simple poster that seems like it could be for a similar movie from the mid-70s but it establishes the core dynamic of the story, at least as it exists at the outset.
There were two trailers released around the time the film was premiering at the Venice Film Festival in August, one that had Charlie sharing what he loves about Nicole and one with Nicole offering a similar perspective on Charlie. The dual perspectives show the high points of their marriage before devolving into the end of their marriage, when they don’t have anything to say to each other. It’s a clever way to sell the unique nature of the movie’s story and certainly works to achieve a balance that a standard trailer would have a difficult time with.
The second trailer (1.9 million views on YouTube) came out in mid-October and combined Charlie’s and Nicole’s stories, starting with them sharing what it is they love about each other before showing how they navigate the dissolution of their marriage. Despite that, it becomes clear they are still going to be part of each other’s lives, which is just as tricky as remaining married was.
Online and Social
You won’t find a synopsis on the movie’s official website, which instead focuses on the chasm between Nicole and Charlie. The character-centric key art is placed on either side of the site’s front page and clicking their outline will take you to the appropriate early trailers. The other trailer as well as the bevy of featurettes released recently are also curate on the site.
Advertising and Promotions
Details about the film started to come out in late July, culminating in the announcement it would screen at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. A screening of the movie at the Telluride Film Festival was preceded by a tribute to Driver that was introduced by Martin Scorsese, who directed the actor in 2017’s Silence. It was also scheduled as the “Centerpiece” selection at this year’s New York Film Festival and among those showing at the Hamptons Film Festival.
Screening at the Toronto Film Festival in September generated conversations that the movie might be Netflix’s best bet yet at getting into awards consideration given the performance from Driver and Johansson along with others. It was then scheduled to be the opening night feature at Film Fest 919 in October. In advance of the movie’s screening at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, Driver and Johansson were named “Outstanding Performers of the Year.”
Netflix managed to reopen the recently-shuttered Paris Theater in New York City to screen the film.
In a surprise twist, the movie was added to the AFI Fest lineup at the last minute when Apple pulled The Banker, which had been scheduled to screen there, from the lineup.
Featurettes released by Netflix included one that focused on the ensemble cast that was assembled by Baumbach and how composer Randy Newman created the film’s score. Also getting attention was costume designer Mark Bridges, editor Jennifer Lame and costar Laura Dern.
Media and Press
While in Venice, Johansson and Driver talked about making the movie with Baumbach and how the story related to the personal troubles some of them have gone through in the past.
A massive profile of Johansson included mention of the many high-profile films she has in the works and on the release schedule, but it was her comments about Woody Allen that generated the most headlines.
A profile of Driver from October talked about his career as a whole and the high-profile directors who have cast him in their movies while pointing out the unconventional nature of his appearance and personality.
Dern was interviewed about how quickly she agreed to sign on to the project and what it was that attracted her.
An interview with Baumbach allowed him to talk about how he developed the story and what real life events inspired him to write it. At the movie’s premiere Johansson and the rest of the cast praised the director while explaining what the story meant to them and why they got involved.
While Johansson talked about the movie a couple months ago while promoting JoJo Rabbit, Driver made some talk show appearances closer to release, including on “The Late Show,” “Late Night” and elsewhere. Baumbach himself was interviewed on “The Daily Show” and Dern appeared on “Kimmel” and other shows.
Another interview with the director focused on the work that went into some of the movie’s key scenes. There were also interviews with Alda and Dern about their roles in the movie along with their entire careers. In addition to one more profile of Baumbach, there was also a features on Julie Haggerty that looked at her career and how it’s now included this film
On some level the campaign is fairly straightforward, selling a movie that hits all the beats you might expect from what is essentially a relationship drama.
But there’s so much here that’s not shown, it’s hard not to think there’s a sucker punch waiting around the corner. That feeling is reinforced by the way the campaign has kept Charlie and Nicole apart in all the individual elements.
Really, then, what’s being sold here is a tearjerker from a reliably original writer/director and featuring a talented cast. The twists and turns of the story will be rending and affirming by turns, but it’s the journey here that is the main attraction.
Picking Up the Spare
A couple additional featurettes from Netflix on the movie’s production design and the way Baumbach approached directing the story. There were also clips of conversations from festivals with Driver and Baumbach, Johansson and costar Ray Liotta. The much-discussed scene of Driver singing Sondheim was released as a clip.