Thursday, June 18, 2009

Margot at the Wedding

"Margot at the Wedding" (Noah Baumbach, 2008) Margot (Nicole Kidman) is a short-story author living in Manhattan with her estranged husband Jim (John Turturro). For reasons best known to herself, she takes a train upstate to attend the wedding of her estranged sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Malcolm (Jack Black), an "artist" of no specific discipline. With Margot is her son Claude (Zane Pais), who along with a scrptwriting colleague (the great CiarĂ¡n Hinds), are probably the only people she's not estranged from.

There's no pleasing Margot. If you try, she'll think you're trying to pull something over on her. Everything's a plot. Nothing is satisfactory. She is brutally honest, even when she's not being honest about it. If she can't probe a weakness, she'll create one to provoke one. And she's only too happy to purloin life-incidents for her fiction.

Although one wonders if she recognizes what fiction might be.

Noah Baumbach's last film was the critically acclaimed "
The Squid and the Whale" which astutely recreated the eddies and shoals and snags of conversations that are the dripping water torturing a marriage or any relationship. Things either wear down or they break under such a test, there is no middle ground, and there is no respite from the constant flow. In "Squid" the human beings were just trying to survive. Here, with Margot, survival's a foregone conclusion, it's just a matter of how many people she can take down in the process. There is no tying her down, it'd be like nailing Jell-o to the wall or having a pleasant conversation with Ann Coulter—it's not done.

You can't reason with a sociopath.

This sort of stuff is indie film gold, and Baumbach is a master at the circular conversation that goes nowhere, and the humor that can be found in absurd power struggles. But there's almost too much of a bad thing here, you can probably time the intervals between the incidents of cast-members breaking down, getting slapped, or getting punched. And Baumbach also is alarmingly unsubtle about the glaring Big Symbol of It All—another "Nature" metaphor that threatens to literally knock the audience over the head with its obviousness. But Baumbach gets one thing exactly right—the only one with any sense is the family dog.

The cast is uniformly excellent and unselfish in spreading the unpleasantness around. If there is one weak link it's Jack Black, but only because he will hammer the joke home, rather than let the words speak for themselves. Everyone else excells at leaving things unsaid when their characters can't leave well enough alone.

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