Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Margot At The Wedding


I had VERY high hopes for this one, and I still do, in theory. Margot At The Wedding is Noah Baumbach's second film, after his wickedly funny and profound The Squid and The Whale.

In Margot, Noah treads the same, if not similar waters, as Squid: Margot focuses on the fractured and strained relationship between Margot (a cold, and prickly Nicole Kidman), a neurotic writer, and her sister Pauline (a free-spirited Jennifer Jason Leigh), a woman who is planning to marry Malcolm (a surprisingly dialed down and restrained Jack Black), and unemployed musician. Margot and her son Claude (newcomer Zane Pais) decide to visit her Pauline after she announces that she is getting married to Malcolm. In short order, the storm the sisters create leaves behind a a mess of thrashed relationships and exposed family secrets. (

The writing is superb--Noah is very good with words, and he uses them to FULL affect here--making very clear the impact words have on people and how those words can be used to hurt them and leave some very deep wounds. Kidman, who hasn't been this good since 1995's To Die For, is in rare form as Margot--a seemingly strong and piercing woman who is barely hiding her own mess of insecurities about her life--a failed marriage, a barely hidden love affair with another writer (Ciaran Hinds), a possible addiction to pills--Margot is a mess, but it is SO fun to watch Kidman inhabit this woman's life with such naked aplomb and glee. It has taken me years to warm up to Kidman and the gifts she possesses as an actress. But, it's films like this, To Die For, Dead Calm, Flirting, Moulin Rouge!, and even the underrated and MUST see Portrait Of A Lady, that show Kidman at her best. But, Margot is definite proof she's a ridiculously talented actress--who doesn't get ENOUGH chances to show what she can do.

The always on point and powerful Jennifer Jason Leigh actually plays "against" type as Pauline. Seemingly fragile and living in the shadow of Margot, Pauline barely manages to mask a seething mess of years of passive-aggressive bitterness and anger towards Margot. Leigh makes what could have been a one-note character come alive as you watch her literally come together and unravel at the seems every time she and Margot are in each other's presence or have one of their classic meltdowns (and the few that are shown in the film are CLASSIC--so much can be said WITHOUT saying much--or nothing at all...)

Jack Black is great as Malcolm, an unemployed schlub who means well, but clearly is out of his league with BOTH sisters--and knows it. Black was interesting to watch.

Newcomer Zane Pais was also very good as Claude, Margot's adolescent son who is entering that very awkward and uncomfortable period called puberty and isn't always sure how he feels about his mother and her outbursts sometimes. Margot loves her son and she spares him the kind of verbal daggers she gives everyone else around her. But, even he ends up in her crosshairs when she drops a verbal bomb on him towards the end of the film.

The rest of the cast is also great: John Turturro as Claude's studly father (!!!!), Fiona Cross as Malcolm's precocious and "adult ADD" having cousin Ingrid; Halley Feiffer as a Lolita-esque Maisy Koorsman, whose attempts to seduce Malcolm are hilarious. Ciaran Hinds rounds out the cast as Maisy's father and Margot's lover Dick.

However, this film isn't as funny as Squid. And, that will be the issue many folks will have with Baumbach's second outing. I wanted to like Margot At The Wedding, and I did. But, not because it was funny.

I enjoyed it, because of how brutal and visceral family conflicts can be. We have all known family members who have fallen out over ancient battles, sibling rivalries, etc. Baumbach's film is no different. Even though the viewer, and this is up for interpretation, is lead to believe that Margot and her sisters Pauline and Becky (who is referred to be only seen towards the end of the film) may have been sexually and physically abused by their father and most definitely neglected by their mother.

The film is hard to watch, because you are laughing at what appears to be the reasons behind why these two women are so fractured and screwed up. It is uncomfortable laughter, because the viewer only wonders just how autobiographical this is for Baumbach. And, also how autobiographical it could be for the viewer themselves. I know I did shudder over some of the scenes--I can remember very vivid conflicts between relatives in my own family that hid and speculated at the kind of abuse mentioned in Margot.

Overall, the film is very good and Kidman and Leigh will most DEFINITELY be mentioned during the upcoming awards season (though with JUNO coming out next week, their competition will be tough from the likes of Ellen Page {Juno} and Jennifer Garner {Vanessa Loring}).

But, this is a must see for fans of Baumbach's work. Though, don't expect to laugh much throughout the film. But, do expect to walk out thinking about family and how complex those relationships can truly be sometimes.

The Writing: A-/B+

The Performances: A

The Movie Overall: B+

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