Margot at the Wedding
reviewed by Andrew James
The story goes that Margot, with her (13 year old?) son Claude, are visiting Margot's sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) just in time for Pauline's nuptuals with Malcolm (Jack Black). Since Margot and Pauline haven't spoken to each other in years, Margot is really there to see a lover while at one of her own book signings over the weekend that happens to be taking place in the same town. Meanwhile, her son Claude finds companionship with Pauline's daughter and another girl - I never did figure out all the familial relationships. On top of this you've got ornery, slightly Deliverance-esque neighbors nagging and fighting with Pauline and generally making things difficult.
The story line however, is really beside the point. Baumbach's films, up to now, have really focussed on the strength of the characters to keep the audience' attention. With 2005's, fantastic The Squid and the Whale, this was pulled off brilliantly in a believable, yet uncomfortable way, with the likes of Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney and a nice set of supporting characters. Here, it's up to Kidman, Leigh and Black to make this happen. Unfortunately, they do not.
The bright spot in the film does land with the performances however. Here we see Kidman the actress as opposed to Kidman the movie star. When she sets her mind to something and dives in head first on a project, she can really shine. Here, although insufferable (since that's what the character calls for), she pulls it off remarkably well and at least captured my attention with her abilities.
Jack Black is obviously here for comedic relief. Though it's been tightened up a bit and is more reserved, he sticks out like a sore thumb; inserting comedy where it's not necessary and doesn't really work. Luckily, his counter-part, Jennifer Jason Leigh carries her weight around pretty well and was apparently nominated for an independent spirit award. Kudos there.
I gotta say, the film has great atmosphere, and as I noted, some nice performances. The story however is completely inconsequential in lieu of watching a bunch of people bicker and call one another names or insult their intelligence. The trailer makes it look like this is slightly light-hearted fun (climbing trees, making jokes, funny stories of the best). This couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, it's two-faced, callous and cold. The drudging up of old family history with no intent other than to inflict pain on one another just becomes not only tiresome, but loathesome as well. And to those that have seen the film, who is this Becky character they keep referring to? At one point, after making her sister cry with some callous phrasing, she asks of her sister, "You know I'm an honest person and I say what I think. Would you rather I lie?" Yes! should've been her response. It's not lying, it's common courtesy. I'd rather this film had lied to me. Ironically, it would've been more truthful, entertaining and believable had it done so.
IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Flixster Profile for Margot at the Wedding