Saturday, November 24, 2007

Movie Review: Margot At The Wedding

If you found Noah Baumbach's last movie, 2005's The Squid And The Whale, difficult to watch because of how badly its characters behaved, steer clear of Margot At The Wedding. Like Squid, Margot is a 90-minute snapshot of a family in crisis, but Baumbach's new film is much darker and cuts far closer to the bone. It's also shot and edited in a choppy manner and uses natural light, which gives the movie a feel that's both hyper-real and artificial. Margot begins with the titular character (played by Nicole Kidman) and her son Claude (Zane Pais) riding on a train and ends with them riding on a bus. This bookending gives you the sense that everything that happens in between, while important to everyone involved, won't really have any affect on their lives; they will keep moving on, doing what they want regardless of what harm it causes to those around them. As the movie opens, Margot and Claude are on the way to the Hamptons to reconnect with Margot's estranged sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who's set to marry Malcolm (Jack Black). Margot is a Manhattan-based writer with a cult following; Pauline feels that her sister ruined her first marriage by incorporating very personal aspects of it into one of her stories. Pauline, who lives in the house where she and Margot grew up, is pregnant, a fact that she's kept hidden from Malcolm, an unemployed musician/artist, and her daughter Ingrid (Flora Cross). You can feel a lifetime's worth tension within this dysfunctional family the second the two sisters re-enter each other's lives, and Baumbach keeps this awkwardness and anxiety front and center throughout the whole film. None of the characters, with the exception of Claude and Ingrid, is the least bit likable, and all of them are so self-involved and bitter that you hope that bad things continue to happen to them. But you can't take you eyes off any of them, thanks to Baumbach's effortless script and across-the-board great performances (especially from Kidman and Leigh). Baumbach has made a film so true to life that it's cringe-worthy, but in the best possible way, and I don't think it's any coincidence that Margot opened the day before Thanksgiving, a time when many families across the country come together and bring out the worst in each other.

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