Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Margot At The Wedding (*1/2)

Written and Directed by Noah Baumbach


There are a lot of similarities between Noah Baumbach's first film The Squid and The Whale and his new film Margot at the Wedding. Both deal with unbearable intellectuals who are terrible people and even worse parents. Baumbach doesn't seem to like writing about people with high character, but at least in The Squid and The Whale the characters were somewhat charming, making them likable to a majority of the audience. The same cannot be said for the characters in this film.

The film stars Nicole Kidman as Margot, a successful writer who takes her son Claude (Zane Pais) with her as she travels to visit her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as she gets married. Pauline's fiance is Malcolm (Jack Black) a mustached, chubby loafer of whom Margot severely disapproves of. The sisters have reunited for the first time in a few years, with Pauline having moved into their childhood home, and we see very early in their reunion that this is a family with deep issues.

We learn that Margot is in the middle of her own rocky marriage and is in the middle of an affair with a writer (Ciaran Hinds) who just so happens to live near Pauline. Pauline has a secret of her own, she is pregnant with Malcolm's baby, and may have been the deciding factor in the engagement.

Baumbach laces the film with many scenes that are sexually disturbing, and tacks on a subplot about fiendish neighbors that roast pigs on their front lawns. We learn that Margot is essentially a monster who spends a good amount of time trying to bring down all of the people that she may or may not love. Beyond that, the film dwindles into a pretentious mess. There's little to no point to the way the film meanders around. Instead of trying to expose emotional scars, the film goes to length to make its characters unlikable. It succeeds.

To be fair, the film is earnest, it takes risks, and has actors who seems to truly believe in this story. Yet for all that, the film has too many scenes of emotional breakdowns that make the film lag. Perhaps the best moment of the film is a small cameo by John Turturro as Margot's husband Jim, a man so gentle, and completely counters all of the coarseness of Margot's ferociousness. Perhaps it's that Jim is the only character in the film that isn't under some kind of extreme emotional turmoil that makes him so refreshing compared to everyone else.

The movie is strange, but it is strange because it exposes the strangeness that we all have inside ourselves. I have many times met people who are like Margot, a person so upset with themselves that take it all out on the people who care for them most. I just don't think it makes a very interesting film. You can get points for bravery, and this film is very brave, but for all the offbeat, arty sidetracks that this film takes, it doesn't hold interest.

Nicole Kidman has always had a reputation for playing these kind of emotionally bare roles. She's as good as she always is, if the desired effect is making the audience cringe. Unfortunately, the most misused performer in the film is Jack Black. He's simply asked to do too much in this role, more than he is capable of. When he is funny the film doesn't work, and when adjusts to the humor of the film, he isn't funny. Somewhat of a guiding light for the film, Jennifer Jason Leigh probably does the best job of being emotionally bare without being mind-achingly annoying.

Much in the tradition of a film released earlier this year, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, this is a tremendous premise with a very promising cast, that is unfortunately filled with completely unbearable characters. It's not unwatchable, and Leigh's performance is sometimes enough to get you through it, but it seems that this film tries a little too hard to be unconventional, that it instead comes off as off putting.

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