TIFF07 REVIEW: Margot at the Wedding [2007]

“I think we should do an audit”

Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to his critically acclaimed film The Squid and the Whale falls way short of living up to the expectations laid before it. There were numerous moments in Margot at the Wedding’s predecessor that skirted the line of acceptance, but they never crossed it. With this entry, however, Baumbach crosses the line early and soon finds that he can’t find his way back. No character here is really likeable at all. Everyone is a bit off mentally and unfortunately acknowledge that fact during the course of the days before Margot’s sister Pauline weds. With examples of family tension, bad parenting, and venting problems to children as if they understand what is happening, I really don’t know what Baumbach was trying to do. By the end of the movie, you really have to wonder why we should care about anyone and whether there was any reason as to why the director thought we would.

At many times it feels as though something is missing and that we are only seeing a slice of life in their dysfunctional family—we don’t know what caused the strife or what is happening as a result. The audience is privy only to the aftermath of many problematic relationships and really can never find a character to side with and enter the film in order to root for them to set things right. At too many instances we find that the puzzle may finally be solved and all our questions may be answered. One such time is at the arrival of Margot’s husband after a lengthy and mysterious build-up. All he does (and thankfully John Turturro throws out the cheese from Transformers and once again shows off his talents), though, is make us hate our principal characters even more. The guy is so nice and understanding that it boggles the mind why Margot can be having such problems in life. I really think she has a chemical imbalance, but being that Baumbach never sheds any light here, besides an off-handed comment from Pauline to her nephew, all you can do is put your hands in the air and feel frustrated for having spent time with people that end up in the exact same spot they were in at the start.

It is not the acting that fails, though; they don’t do the characters injustice. In fact, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Pauline) and Jack Black (her fiancé) are quite good, with Nicole Kidman (Margot) also doing a much better job than the horrid turn in Invasion, although still not in top form. The fault seems to lie with Baumbach and the way he brought them to life. I don’t know what he had in mind, but before the premiere screening, he thanked his producers for allowing him free reign to make the movie that he wanted to make. I am glad to have had the opportunity to hear those words straight from his mouth: everything onscreen is exactly as he wanted it to be. His script, then, was written this vague for a reason. Maybe the point is to see how ego and fame can affect a family that sets out to find love. Some of this would make sense because of learning that Margot and Pauline were abused as children, going through multiple relationships for pure physical pleasure before settling on the men in their lives at the moment, men finally showing them compassion. However, even that bit of background history is tossed out the window when Margot makes a flippant remark on how their sister Betty was raped. Both sisters follow that statement with uproarious laughter. Talk about a shocker; either the event is tread way too lightly upon or perhaps that atrocity was a piece that was written in one of Margot’s novels. Leigh’s character does at one point yell that her sister will never be able to ruin another of her marriages by transposing events of her life into fiction. Thinking this way, it is tough to be able to tell what, if anything, is truly real in the film. Anything and everything spoken between the sisters could be a mixture of life and literature.

It is weird, though, as I can’t say I hated the movie completely. There were numerous funny moments and sometimes touching glimpses into the love they all feel they need the other to give them. Black shows some great range in a role of a man that is kind and unable to cause violence to another human being, but at the same time is a short fuse verbally and emotionally crippled, needing love from whomever is willing to give it. When rumors of his infidelity are finally answered, his sharp turns from sorrow, to strength, to fear, to self-loathing are a bit astonishing having known him pretty strictly as being a one-note performer. I also really liked a moment dealing with Ciarán Hinds’ character. He interviews his colleague and mistress Margot at a book signing and ultimately sticks a proverbial knife into her back. The moment is genuine and could have gotten some much needed conflict involved in the story, but actually is so random and unprovoked one must question why it happens at all. Again this is a moment where you have to think if the motivation for his betrayal has happened elsewhere and previous to our entry point into the antics of this dysfunctional clan. Unfortunately, the film Baumbach wanted is too hard to penetrate and almost impossible to make one want to try. Getting to know these people can only make your outlook on life suffer, because they have no regard for anyone other than themselves.

Margot at the Wedding 5/10 | ★ ★

[1] Nicole Kidman (MARGOT) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (Pauline) star in Noah Baumbach’s MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. Photo by: Ken Regan
[2] Nicole Kidman stars as MARGOT in Noah Baumbach’s MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. Photo by: Ken Regan


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