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New Rental: Margot at the Wedding

January 23, 2009

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I don’t have a sister but I imagine if I did, it would go a little something like this. As a writer with a son in a failing marriage, I would visit my sister who I had lost touch with out of my own malevolence and help flip her world upside down. Or at least, this is Nicole Kidman’s title role in Margot at the Wedding.

I’ve been a fan of Noah Baumbach since Kicking and Screaming in 1995, his directorial debut. Then with his writing of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and then the writing/directing of The Squid and the Whale, I fell in love with his quirky characters and dark family conflict. He captures that sense of our own family pain but makes it look more interesting and highly more comedic.

But I was left disappointed with Margot at the Wedding not only for its abrupt pointless ending but with the dark tone and look of the film.

Most of the film I squinted and wondered if my TV was fading.

As for the tone of the film, perhaps I am in a different place now then during his earlier films or perhaps the screwed up writer character hit too close to the bone, but I felt perturbed by the movie. Moments before the only interesting event in the film I wondered, why do I still not care about these characters? What is missing here?

I like LOVE Jennifer Jason Leigh (the sister Pauline) and while bored unless she was on screen, I would spend most of my time watching the film wondering how she always manages the most fascinating roles and yet we hardly ever see her. Darn that independent film that never finds its way to Oxford until 2 or 3 years later!

Maybe the slightly uncomfortable sexual topics that are addressed in the movie are one of the issues I had with the film, but seeing Jack Black take on the type of character he becomes enraged me. As Pauline’s fiance, it is one of Black’s more interesting performances, yet his character becomes exactly what Margot believed of him. It felt cheap.

Why couldn’t we have proven Kidman’s self-righteous character wrong? Why did he have to be a loser just like she said? Shouldn’t there have been a way to cut her down off her soap box instead of let her troubled personality shine by proving her sister wrong?

Still, a lovely moment in the film is when the tree, a contention between the odd neighbors and themselves, falls, crushing the wedding tent. It is a lovely symbol of the family tree taking down the hope of a new life. It is the tree that Margot climbed but feared coming down from. The image is the perfect summation of the film.

Unlike his previous films, Baumbach’s characters are forgettable and there is not enough clever dialogue to make the movie stick in my memory. Overall,  Margot at the Wedding is just ok, but just ok is never good enough for someone like Baumbach.

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