Noah Baumbach already had a respected and beloved career before he made Marriage Story. However, this film about divorce, love, and acceptance was a major commercial breakthrough for the writer-director. On top of being a Netflix film starring two big actors (Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver), the film was a critical hit. We’ll be breaking down the script to see how Baumbach’s characters, dialogue, and themes come together to create one of the best movies of the 2010s.
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Marriage Story Script PDF Download
Click to view and download the entire Marriage Story script PDF below.
WHO WROTE Marriage Story SCRIPT?
Written by Noah Baumbach
Noah Baumbach is an American filmmaker, born in New York City, known primarily as a writer-director, while also having produced films. He has primarily done smaller independent pictures, such as Kicking and Screaming, Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg, Frances Ha, and The Meyerowitz Stories. Two of his films, The Squid and the Whale and Marriage Story, earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay.
STRUCTURE OF MARRIAGE STORY’S SCREENPLAY
Here is the story structure for the Marriage Story screenplay:
Charlie and Nicole have been married for close to a decade in New York City, but they have now decided to get divorced. They have a son, Henry, and are hoping to work it out between themselves and not get lawyers involved. Additionally, Nicole will be moving (back) to Los Angeles (Charlie hopes temporarily) to work on a TV show.
Against Charlie’s wishes, and from the recommendation of one of the TV show’s producers, Nicole decides to get lawyers involved. She meets with Nora, who gets to know Nicole and decides to pressure Charlie into having “lawyers involved” divorce proceedings.
Plot Point One
Charlie super duper did not want lawyers involved, nor did he want Nicole and Henry to permanently move to Los Angeles. That said, due to being “served,” he now has to get a lawyer to spar with Nora. Charlie gets a tip from his mother-in-law and hires Bert to be his lawyer (especially since he’s less expensive than a guy named Jay Marotta).
Charlie realizes Nora is too good and that Bert kind of sucks. Not only that, but he seems to be clearly losing this fight with Nicole, which he never wanted in the first place. So he decides to go back and hire Jay Marotta (whom Nora is very familiar with). The divorce proceedings have now been intensified; while Jay and Nora duke it out on behalf of their clients, the strain between Charlie and Nicole is at an all-time high.
Plot Point Two
With the lawyers battling it out, the relationship between Charlie and Nicole is further strained. In between it all, Charlie has to put on the appearance of being a good father so that the courts grant him equal custody for Henry. All the while, Nora is making sure things go really well for Nicole after all this is over.
The dust settles and Nicole makes it out just fine from this whole divorce thing. She has her own place in LA, has the TV show, and her family, too. Charlie, meanwhile, continues to live in New York City, and we see how his life has changed now that Nicole and Henry no longer live with him.
About one year after the initial divorce proceedings, both Charlie and Nicole seem to be in good places. Henry is having a great time in LA and things are going super well for Nicole. Additionally, Charlie has accepted a residency to direct a play at UCLA, which means he’ll be (physically) closer to his son.
Marriage Story Script Takeaway #1
Marriage Story’s Main Characters
The first thing the Marriage Story script does is introduce us to Nicole via Charlie. Afterward, we are “introduced” to Charlie via Nicole. By implementing the script into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software, we can see how, in the first few pages, all we are getting is character via the eyes of another.
It is a surprising and effective way to start this story, especially when we later learn that these are descriptions asked by a mediator to be written by Charlie and Nicole about one another.
The script is very heavy on dialogue (more on that later), and that also helps us understand the characters, their lives, how they work, and what they’re about. Early on, after we learn that the two of them work in theatre and see them at a work dinner/party, we have a scene where Charlie characteristically wants to provide Nicole with some notes about her recent performance.
We can see how the full scene translates in the finished film. It allows us to see and feel the tension between the two, along with how it ultimately affects Nicole when she goes to bed alone.
Like in any good script, the characters in Marriage Story are shown not just through dialogue but actions. Even among dialogue, we can see how emotions and feelings creep in, influencing what they say and how they might be perceived. These moments can even clue us into a character’s state of mind at any given time, such as when Nicole first meets with Nora and spills out how she really felt being married to Charlie. This scene also gives us a chance to see just how different Nora and Nicole are.
And later, when Charlie is trying to look good for the family/child evaluator, he absentmindedly tries to show her a trick with his knife that he always performed for Henry.
However, because of a combination of stress, circumstances, and trying to keep up appearances, Charlie cuts his arm on accident.
We can see how it’s perfectly executed in the final film, showing off the awkwardness of the situation, along with Charlie’s utter exhaustion. In many ways, this accident serves as a culmination of how everything that’s been happening in the film gets to Charlie. (Warning: scene is not for the squamish.)
In a script made up of moments and dialogue, these are just select moments that demonstrate who these main characters are and the people they interact with during an uncomfortable and heartbreaking time.
Marriage Story Script Takeaway #2
Marriage Story’s Dialogue
The only thing more noteworthy and upfront than Marriage Story’s main characters is its dialogue. As one might assume from Baumbach’s previous work, there is plenty of dialogue in Marriage Story, all charged by the unique characters who deliver it.
There are no wasted moments in Marriage Story, even when it’s Nicole in the middle of a screen test. It’s a particular scene featuring multiple off-screen voices while still being focused on Nicole.
On top of being amusing dialogue, it clues into the different mindset of LA culture and people, what they think of Nicole, and how she handles it.
Sometimes the dialogue is a bit more complex, with more than one thing going on at a time. This can be seen when Charlie is first speaking with Nora over the phone while also dealing with play rehearsals.
Beyond being amusing and serious all at once, we get to see how stressful this is for Charlie and contrast it with how it’s going for Nicole with Nora.
Other times, dialogue is straightforward and direct, which is no more clearer than in Marriage Story’s fight scene between Charlie and Nicole.
The intensity of emotion is displayed perfectly on the page, which is only superseded by the scene itself. It speaks for itself, but you can see how the actors were able to take the ferocity of what’s on the page and turn it into a heart wrenching battle of emotions.
Just like with characters, there’s no shortage of excellent dialogue in Marriage Story, but we can only cover so much of it here (especially when almost the entire screenplay is made up of excellent dialogue).
Marriage Story Script Takeaway #3
Marriage Story’s Themes
The characters and dialogue are almost immediate in Marriage Story, and they help flesh out the other most important and prominent takeaway: the movie’s themes. The main theme, of course, is about marriage (or rather, divorce), and with that comes emotional pain, frustrations, tears, and acceptance.
We can see the movie’s main theme quite early, after we the audience (but not the characters) hear what Charlie and Nicole have written about one another. We saw a script excerpt earlier and below is a breakdown of that opening sequence by none other than Baumbach himself.
We can also see how the divorce looks for Nicole’s mom Sandra, who is still close to Charlie and would rather they not get divorced.
As for Charlie, we have various moments that show how the divorce proceedings are affecting him. Aside from having to find the right lawyer for the job, he also has to contend with the fact that his son prefers to live in LA.
The enormity of the situation between Charlie and Nicole is exemplified when Charlie comes over to Nicole’s new place to fix her gate. Even though they have a nice enough time, eventually Charlie leaves with Henry back to his place, with the large gate separating the former husband and wife.
The finished product very visibly makes this clear, with Charlie and Nicole physically and literally setting a barrier between themselves.
And when the divorce proceedings are finally ending, Nicole doesn’t feel as triumphant about it as Nora does. It’s a moment that underscores that neither Charlie nor Nicole wanted it to come to this. Even when it's finally coming to an end, the feeling is less celebratory than it is bittersweet, if not purely bitter.
This is further underscored in the penultimate scene, where Charlie and Henry read Nicole’s letter about Charlie, which works as a sort of “full circle” moment.
If you’re in the mood to see Adam Driver cry one last time, see the finished product in the clip below, which includes the final scene before the credits roll.
Even with terrific characters and dialogue, it’s all in service of the themes of Marriage Story, which come out wonderfully in the screenplay and on screen.
Read and download more scripts
As heartbreaking as it is, Marriage Story is a wonderful script full of raw emotion and relatable feelings, all translating to a fantastic finished film. If you want to continue reading screenplays, we have similar titles like La La Land, When Harry Met Sally, and Casablanca in our screenplay database. Browse and download PDFs for all of our scripts as you read, write and practice your craft to become the next great screenwriter.