Theres no one to like very much in the dysfunctional family drama Margot at the Wedding, and no one to care very much about either.
Theres no one to like very much in the dysfunctional family drama Margot at the Wedding, and no one to care very much about either. But if you can get past the feeling of numbness and the dreary countryside of New England - photographed as if it was enjoying a lifelong emotional eclipse - not to a mention a drama that sometimes rages at the top of its voice, Margot at the Wedding has the lacerating honesty of a car accident. This doesnt sound like much of a recommendation, I know, but at least no one sings Christmas carols at the end.
This is a movie mostly about sisterly affection and its opposite, portrayed as a grim and angry jealousy leavened with a seasonal dose of resentment. Margot (Nicole Kidman) is a sour and unhappy writer travelling from New York City with her son Claude (Zane Pais, whom you may mistake for a girl for the first part of the film - dont get confused!) to attend the wedding of her sister. Shes Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), another kind of wreck, a spiritual dabbler living in the old family home on a picturesquely dour island and preparing to marry Malcolm (Jack Black, an intriguing combination of weepy regret and sulky humour).
Margot has no hope for either Paulines taste in men or for the marriage. Why are we going then? asks Claude. Were supporting her, replies Margot, a woman who embodies narcissism, anger, depression, sexual licence, hypocrisy, deep feeling and callousness, sometimes all at once. At one stage she sits her teenage son down, explains how his body is changing in very unattractive ways, and then gives him the cheery conclusion, Its OK, though. He wanders off into the dreariness.
Margot is a writer who has been cannibalizing her familys unhappiness for her New Yorker short stories, one of which has apparently ended Paulines first marriage with its transparent candour. She herself has just left her husband (a cameo by John Turturro, astonishingly normal) and has taken up with her writing partner Dick (Ciaran Hinds).
Theres a scene where Margot is having a reading at a nearby bookstore where Dick interviews her: like much in Margots Wedding, it turns into a multi-layered expose of autobiography, a subject that might be on the mind of writer-director Noah Baumbach. His previous film, The Squid and the Whale, was another dysfunctional epic that pulled much from his own childhood; Margots Wedding is both more fictional and closer to the bone.
Pauline, meanwhile, is struggling through her own crises as the sister of the famous one. The man shes about to marry is an amiable calamity - he is, as we mentioned, played by Jack Black - who wants to be a musician or an artist but spends his time being unhappy and writing letters to newspapers.
Margot at the Wedding plops us in the middle of this disaster for an hour and a half of argument and reconciliation.
Baumbach nails the confusion of emotions of estranged families, especially between sisters - and rather obvious symbolism. For instance, the familys low-class neighbours demand that they cut down the family tree (!) that is spreading its roots into their property. I think they resent us because were . . . I dont know what we are, explains Malcolm.
Easier to access is the parallel drama among the teenage children, including Claude and his cousin Ingrid (Flora Cross), as well as Maisy (Halley Feiffer), the sexy babysitter who also has a part in the overstuffed plot.
There are scenes so achingly true and bitingly written that you squirm in your seat. When everyone plays a dysfunctional game of croquet (what else?) Margot ends up stalking away in yet another fit of disappointment. This is why I hate games, she says. I hate what it does to me.
Shes both awful and familiar, and Kidmans performance is raw, frightening and brave. She has a scene with her estranged husband who tenderly hands her his sweater on a cold night. Like much in her life, it pisses her off. Before you gave me your sweater, I dont think I realized I was cold, she says. Its a line that could stand as the epigram of Margot at the Wedding.