Margot at the Wedding

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    I still think the best way to describe director Noah Baumbach’s films is “Wes Anderson with less quirk and more angst.” Like Anderson, Baumbach (who co-wrote Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) is mostly interested with dysfunctional families and their extended circle of friends and enemies. His last film, The Squid and the Whale, was a classic tale of teen angst set against the backdrop of a family being torn apart from its core, and it was one of the best films of 2005.

    Margot at the Wedding is just as bitter as Squid and the Whale, actually maybe a little more so. There are probably three likable characters in this film, while all the rest are insufferable in one way or another. That’s not to say that the film isn’t filled with noteworthy performances, it’s just to say I would much rather watch these people in a movie than meet these people in person. I’ve always liked films that feature unpleasant or unlikable people, though, and this definitely qualifies.

Margot (Nicole Kidman) is a well-known writer who has made her name by writing short stories based on her own family, much to the chagrin of her relatives. As the film opens, Margot and her son Claude (Zane Pais) are on their way to attend her sister Pauline’s wedding. Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mrs. Baumbach in real life) is marrying Malcolm (Jack Black), a slacker who is between jobs and spends most his time writing letters to magazines and newspapers. Margot is one of those people who can’t keep her opinions to herself, and tells her sister that Malcolm is not good enough for her or as a father figure for her daughter Ingrid (Flora Cross). Margot and Pauline are not on speaking terms as the film opens, Pauline resents Margot for exposing their family in her writings, and Margot resents that Pauline doesn’t do just as she says.

Leigh and Kidman have a special chemistry in the film, and truly do feel like they are sisters. They love each other, call each other their closest friend but also really can’t stand each other very much. Complications arise in the form of Margot’s former and possible future lover Dick Koosman (Ciaran Hinds), who Margot can’t quite decide if she wants to sleep with again, though Koosman’s vacation home being close to Pauline’s house definitely was part of Margot’s decision to make the trip. Also, Koosman’s twenty-year old daughter Maisy (Halley Feiffer) awakens the boyish curiosity of Claude (and possibly Malcolm). Another key character is Margot’s husband Jim (played by John Turturro), who Margot did not bring on the trip, for reasons that are slowly revealed to the audience.

The film is bleak and moody, but the power of the performances, the quality of Baumbach’s direction and the fine cinematography by Harris Savides help make it worthwhile. Nicole Kidman’s performance here is her finest in some time, and I felt that both Kidman and Leigh were robbed Oscar nominations for their work here. Margot at the Wedding is not an easy film to watch, but it is well worth it.

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