Screenplay by Noah Baumbach
Running time: 92 minutes
Screening: February 16, 6:15, Cineworld
It’s a cliché, but Noah Baumbach is all grown up. The writer/director has created a down-tempo, mature, engaging, emotional, and, of course, brainy film in Margot at the Wedding. His signature low-key humour is present ( jokes about therapy, an inappropriate sketch at the dinner table,) but mostly it’s his confessional storytelling that sticks out.
As a young filmmaker, Baumbach made gloriously ironic indie films celebrating youth, idealism, failure, and emotional retardation. Kicking and Screaming, Highball and Mr Jealousy all featured the same roving cast of characters and the clearest and strongest idea created was that they all hung out in real life and some of the storylines and withering dialogue came from late nights drinking wine, smoking joints and being deeply ironic together. These films were like lo-fi Woody Allen, with Baumbach often appearing in central roles, but there was something collegiate about them. Along came The Squid and the Whale, and suddenly the boyish, neurotic director was writing about teenagers and fortysomethings, their failed relationships, and their deeply dysfunctional world views. In Margot at the Wedding, Baumbach takes it a step further, keeping the dysfunction, but it’s somehow less comical, more disturbing. Nicol Kidman, an actress usually limited in her performances by a breathy whisper and a wooden acting style, is coaxed into reality as Margot, the hyper-critical intellectual attending her sister’s wedding with poorly hidden ulterior motives. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach’s real-life partner, is Pauline, the hippy-ish sister marrying the wrong man in a desperate ploy for happiness. Jack Black even pulls off serious acting, throwing the ham back in the fridge for a while. The on-screen relationship between the sisters is withering, confusing, terrifying and honest, as they reel from spewing foul hatred at one another to confessing to their respective children that “she’s my closest friend.” The writing is sharp, the acting is excellent, and the film as a whole is a gripping, if rather gruesome, vivisection of a defective family unit.