This article contains spoilers about Marriage Story.
It’s a rare achievement for an intimate, quietly heartbreaking film about the dissolution of a relationship to light up social-media feeds with impassioned debate. But Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, released this past weekend on Netflix, has done just that. In the days since its release, several aspects of Noah Baumbach’s semiautobiographical film (about a marriage between a New York theater director and an actor that crumbles when the director has an affair and the actor moves to Los Angeles to star in a television show, taking their son with her) have become fodder for online discussion: whether the party at fault for the divorce is Charlie (played by Adam Driver) or Nicole (Scarlett Johansson); whether the film is more sympathetic to one spouse than the other; and what kind of message the movie sends about the very institutions of marriage and family.
Perhaps one reason viewers hold such fervent opinions is because so many have recognized elements of themselves and their partnerships on-screen—as Ian Kerner, a marriage and sex therapist based in New York, can attest. In his inbox at present, he has emails from “half a dozen” patients he works with who have already gotten in touch to tell him they want to talk about the film in upcoming sessions. This week, I spoke with Kerner about the central marriage in Marriage Story—what makes it both typical and unusual compared with what Kerner sees in his practice daily, and at which point in Nicole and Charlie’s marriage a couples-therapy intervention might have saved it.