- Rated R
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All photos © Paramount Vantage
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
f you like your movies dry and overly pretentious, then Noah Baumbach’s “Margot at the Wedding” may be just the thing for you. It also happens to be incredibly hopeless and mean-spirited, not to mention mildly depressing. That particular demographic only represents a small percentage of the moviegoing public, however, making the film’s theatrical run positively meaningless. It’s a mandatory nuisance, really, since the film has to be released in some capacity to be eligible for the Academy Awards. And let’s face it: despite some serious problems in both the script and the pacing of the film, “Margot at the Wedding” delivers enough award-worthy performances to be considered a formidable threat come this year’s Oscars.
Nicole Kidman stars as the title character, a neurotic writer who only finds pleasure in the misery of others. She’s also going through a mid-life crisis, so when her free-spirited sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) invites her out to their childhood home to attend her wedding, Margot is given the perfect escape from her incredibly patient husband Jim (John Turturro). With son Claude (the androgynous Zane Pais) in tow, Margot arrives at the ocean-side house prepared to speak her mind. She immediately disapproves of Pauline’s brilliant but unemployed fiancé Malcolm (Jack Black), reignites an ongoing feud with their redneck neighbors, and even tries to convince one of their friends that his son is autistic. Then again, Margot thinks everyone is autistic (or retarded), and as the tension in the house escalates, the chance of the wedding ever happening looks less and less likely.
If graded solely on its performances, “Margot at the Wedding” would be one of the best films of the year. Kidman is at the top of her game as the emotionally brutal Margot, a woman who exposes the flaws in her personal life (as well as the lives of her family members) to create the fictional characters in her short stories. She’s both the film’s heroine and its villain, playing a woman who’s so unbelievably selfish and detestable that it’s impossible to look away. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also solid as the main target of Margot’s verbal attacks, and while she may be viewed as the screw-up of the family, she’s nowhere close to becoming the monster that Margot is throughout the film. Jack Black, meanwhile, delivers yet another top-notch dramatic performance as Malcolm, a man who – despite his exaggerated demeanor – still comes off as the sanest character of the bunch. He’s Pauline’s voice of reason to Margot’s hypercritical Devil, and while Malcolm has his share of personal flaws as well, he still comes off looking like a saint when compared to the self-sabotaging women.
Unfortunately, a movie depends on a lot more than its performances. Baumbach’s “The Squid and the Whale” centered around the same kind of dysfunctional family that is at the core of “Margot at the Wedding,” but the story in that film actually served a purpose. The narrative took the characters on a journey, and they matured as a result of it. The characters in “Margot at the Wedding," however, never actually evolve, giving little incentive for the audience to connect with them. A subplot involving Pauline’s neighbors is not only unnecessary, but it makes the lack of a real story more evident. This could have been a really great film under someone else’s direction (Wes Anderson would have had a field day with these characters), but instead, it fails to rise above mediocrity. Margot surely wouldn’t approve.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
The single-disc release of “Margot at the Wedding” is an absolute disaster. The only “special feature” is a 12-minute conversation between writer/director Noah Baumbach and star Jennifer Jason Leigh, while the addition of a few trailers only exaggerates the complete lack of bonus material.