Saturday, March 01, 2008

Margot at the Wedding

Margot at the Wedding (Noah Baumbach, 2007) [6]
Here's a film with completely unlikable characters, and yet somehow, manages to pull some interesting things out of it when a lot of people will see only how unpalatable it is. This comes across as a more "serious" film for Baumbach, not just that he scales down the humor (which may be good or bad depending on the situation) but that formally, this is an improvement on the other work of his that I've seen. The film pulls no punches in the rancor and depression these characters feel and Baumbach reflects this is a handheld style that emphasizes the various shades of grey and wind of the landscapes, as well as the darkness of the interior scenes. On a simply formal level, it fits the mood of the film perfectly. The story, however, carries all the problems the film has with it. Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her son come to her sister, Pauline's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding. Only that the two haven't talked in years and that Margot is using the wedding as an way to carry on a extra-marital affair. Once there, Margot manages to alienate everybody with her withering observations, mostly that Pauline shouldn't be marrying the borderline manic-depressive Malcolm (Jack Black). Much of this dysfunctional family drama played out in The Squid & the Whale, Baumbach's last film. He certainly has the ability to craft scenes that tell of the ways family members can cripple one another with words. The problem here is that unlike that film, the story here comes out too thin. Other than the key point that Margot seems to appropriate a lot of her family in her stories, there isn't that much to really tell how the sisters got to the point they're at. Margot is emotionally devastating to her son and seems completely oblivious that her words cause as much harm as good. While none of this characterization is bad, it seems to be a lot of style over substance. Black's character in particular never reaches out beyond a muted variation on the manic energy he usually displays. I guess what I'm trying to say is that not a lot of what these characters express feels that earned to me. But for whatever reason, it doesn't make me not like the film. Baumbach has enough control in what he's doing to a least make it a little interesting.

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