Shining the Spotlight: Noah Baumbach and Why Dialogue Matters

The dialogue of a film can make or break the audience’s experience. Dialogue not only conveys the intentional ideas to the people watching, but in general it sets the overall tone of the film. 

Director Noah Baumbach is no stranger to this, especially with both of his standout movies, Marriage Story and The Meyerowitz Stories. As both movies lean into a more grounded and realistic tone to capture the audience, he embraces the reality of dysfunctional families at its rawest sense. 

Altogether, this just made me really interested in studying exactly how it is that the director is able to do what he does with such delicacy. Heads up, I’m clearly no professional in understanding film completely, yet today I want to display three key features I found really interesting from the use of dialogue in his films.

Director Baumbach with Director Greta Gerwig
(Source: Refinery29)

The 3 Key Features 

1. Crosstalk

Baumbach capitalises on the fact that we often talk over each other way too much at times. However, he uses this feature sparingly to provide a larger impact to the overall narrative when it does happen. It doesn’t happen in every scene, but when it does happen, it is usually when his characters need to talk about…

A scene from The Meyerowitz Stories
(Source: Slash Film)

2. Overt Emotions

During scenes, we often get characters talking about anything except their emotions for the most part. Not only is this great for proving the “show, don’t tell” theory, but it also gives the audience credit for being able to piece the puzzle and hidden meanings behind the dialogue scenes. 

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)
Danny and Matthew in The Meyerowitz Stories
(Source: IMDb)

For instance, the elevator scene from The Meyerowitz Stories sees Danny and Matthew’s cracked relationship. They let the audience in on the dysfunctional nature of the family through Danny’s fallible attempts of socialising with his more financially successful stepbrother, Matthew. It only lasts for a few minutes before the scene changes, but it easily becomes one of the more impactful scenes in the movie.

Watching his movies is like watching a ticking time-bomb, ready to explode at any second; and when his characters need to explode, he lets them. In The Meyerowitz Stories, we see their explosion through Danny’s (Adam Sandler) exasperation surrounding the process of selling his family house. Meanwhile, in Marriage Story, we are presented with a couple yelling about ambition and love.

Watching his movies is like watching a ticking time-bomb … and when his characters need to explode, he lets them.

It forces the characters to face their deep-seated issues and give answers that offer drama. Again, this is done sparingly, thus making these moments resonate deeper with the audience when it does happen.

3. Guarded Characters

All his characters from both of these movies have one thing in common: they’re extremely guarded.

Adam Driver as Charlie in Marriage Story
(Source: Indiewire)

Think about the scene from Marriage Story where the Social Services come to assess Charlie’s home. The entire scene showcases Charlie’s nervousness of him leading a fake life in full frontal display — till he accidentally cuts himself with a knife.

These guarded characters will do ANYTHING ELSE except talk about the problems that are actually burdening, haunting and hurting them. Anything to keep them away from what really scares them. 

Anything

All in all…

To most, these scenes might come off as mundane. Yet, by adding in these techniques sparingly definitely gives us a sense of these people’s worlds and realities. Once we accept that reality, the dialogue itself feels real on its own.

Written by Kishaun Xavier

Cover photo credits: Independent UK