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Monday, December 24, 2007

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Posted By on Mon, Dec 24, 2007 at 10:57 AM

MOVIEGOER REVIEW:  MARGOT AT THE WEDDING

Watching a film about parents being bad to their children isn't something that is particularly appealing to me.  However, in 2005, Noah Baumbach, a relatively unknown filmmaker, made a whopper of a film called "The Squid and the Whale," starring Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels as parents on the brink of divorce.  Baumbach intimated in several press interviews that the film was autobiographical, although which parts and which characters we'll never really know.  Nonetheless, this film, made in New York was a sophisticated, if not academic, assessment of parents and children and divorce.  I loved it.

So it was only reasonable that his next picture, "Margot at the Wedding," starring Nicole Kidman, Jack Black and Jennifer Jason Leigh, would knock my socks off.  Baumbach had a niche, and because of his gift for screenwriting he could tell difficult stories well, and in a way that didn't seem trivial.

"Margot at the Wedding," is the story of Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her son Claude (Zane Pais) who together travel to Margot's sister Pauline's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding to Malcolm (Jack Black).  Margot's in the midst of leaving her husband (John Turturro, briefly), so it only stands to reason that attending a wedding would be an unappealing endeavor. 

And that's precisely what it turns out to be.  Margot's as mean as a snake, and not just to her sister for whom she has generally disapproval.  But to her son, who can't seem to do anything right, despite never doing anything wrong, and to her husband, at whom she fires demonic insults that would sear the flesh of any real human being.

Like many of Baumbach's characters, those central to the film are writers, wanna-be writers or failed writers.  They swim in angst, self loathing, and jealousy, as if their profession, if not their craft, has yet to heal them from their awful past.  And Baumbach's script alludes to an awful past for Margot and Pauline. 

Sadly, this film just makes you uncomfortable.  You want Margot to stop being Margot, Pauline to stop being Pauline, and Malcolm to stop being Malcom.  The days leading up their wedding are a hate-fest, and what they say and how they act will cause you to squirm in your seat.  That's because it seems that this script, unlike "The Squid and the Whale," and despite it's 91- minute running time, didn't see the virtue in brevity.  A few less insults and a few more moments of compassion would have made for a more tolerable film.  Maybe next time.

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