Margot at the Wedding
2007, R, 91 min. Directed by Noah Baumbach. Starring Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, Zane Pais, John Turturro, Ciarán Hinds.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Dec. 14, 2007
The casual cruelty that the characters in Margot at the Wedding inflict upon one another is often shocking in its matter-of-factness. These narcissists don’t engage in the polite conversations or observe the social niceties that most of us do in our everyday interactions with others. The truth is they’re much too self-absorbed for that kind of thing. The divorced parents in director/screenwriter Baumbach’s mordantly funny The Squid and the Whale were hardly role models for the two sons caught in the crossfire, but their flaws seemed achingly human and ultimately forgivable. In this follow-up film by Baumbach, however, it’s difficult – sometimes impossible – to find any rapport with someone like Margot (Kidman), a caustic short-story writer who frequently refers to others as stupid, including her own adolescent son, Claude (Pais). Shortly after arriving at the Long Island family home for the wedding of her estranged sister, Pauline (Leigh), to a hopeless slacker (a miscast Black), she begins to wreak emotional havoc with everyone within her sphere of contact: family, friends, even total strangers. It’s clear that Margot is a troubled soul in some kind of terrible pain, but the film does little to depict her as anything but a pushy, judgmental, and overly critical human being. Perhaps Baumbach envisions Margot as an antidote to the phony emotionalism in so many films that bestow redemption upon their less-than-prefect protagonists in the final reel, for the sake of permitting the audience a feel-good moment. Whatever Baumbach’s intentions, the inaccessible Margot is little more than a big question mark in the end. Not even Kidman’s formidable talents can plumb the depths of what makes her tick, though there is something unequivocally fearless in her performance. At first, the spacy Pauline isn’t very likable either; she appears to deserve a sister like Margot. After a while, however, you see other dimensions in her, largely thanks to Leigh’s ability to inhabit a character without a hint of actorly pretense. In many respects, the sibling rivalry between the two sisters in Margot at the Wedding defies categorization as either comedy or drama, walking a tightrope that is purposely uncomfortable. Baumbach pulled off a similar feat in The Squid and the Whale, but here he’s not so successful. The next time he attempts something similar, he might take care to lessen the bile and amplify the heart.