Saturday, December 15, 2007

Margot at the Wedding (2007, Noah Baumbach)

After 2005's The Squid and the Whale and now Margot, Baumbach has become a kind of poet laureate of domestic dysfunction, crafting precisely-written tales of epically strained families that exist that elicit just enough uneasy laughter to qualify as comedies. In many ways, Margot is even better than Squid, although its problems are also more pronounced. But first, the good stuff. As expected, the cast shines, from the great performance by Nicole Kidman on down. Even Jack Black, who seems like the oddball in the bunch, rises to the occasion- as Malcolm, the layabout fiancée of Margot's sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Black channels his manic presence into a role so convincingly that for the first time I could imagine him stepping outside the kuh-razy Jack Black persona in future projects. In addition, the family dynamic, especially between Margot and Pauline, rings uncannily true, with the two sisters feeling completely free to pummel one another with put-downs and snide remarks because they know each other so well- and indeed are so similar- that they know exactly how far they can go with each other. The stuff within the family- what with Margot and Pauline, and Malcolm, and Margot's distant husband and the writer she's sleeping with, plus the preteen children of Pauline and Margot, who are about as well-adjusted as kids could be under the circumstances- is so good that there's a near-masterpiece hiding inside Margot at the Wedding. So it's more than a little disappointing when Baumbach leaves the nest for even weirder pastures. Was the stuff with crazy neighbors the Voglers really necessary? I don't think so. Likewise, the business with an old family tree feels too on-the-nose symbolic for the movie, especially when it comes to when, and where, and how it comes crashing down. Still, Margot at the Wedding is sort of stunning when it's in its element, which thankfully is most of its running time. I'd gladly sit through the more iffy material again and again for moments like the one where Pauline, in mid-argument, addresses her older sister as "dude."

Also, FYI, since I saw her in The Squid and the Whale I've had a gigantic crush on Halley Feiffer, and with Margot at the Wedding it continues unabated. Just in case you were wondering.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

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