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Margot at the Wedding
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Noah Baumbach has followed up his success with "The Squid and the Whale" with a much more complex story of relationships between two adult sisters who haven't even spoken for years, and their own lovers, children - even neighbors. He doesn't make it easy for us to know the origins of the estrangement, but we're fascinated by what we see on screen as the two try to get back together.
One sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is getting married in the family's old house on Long Island. She has a daughter from some unspecified earlier relationship. The other sister, Margot (Nicole Kidman), a writer of short stories that rely for their effect on exposing family secrets, makes a last-minute decision to come to the wedding with her son Claude, who was the product of her own on-again off-again marriage to John Turturro. In fact she has a lover (Cieran Hinds) who will also show up that weekend with his daughter, a teenager with a kind of Lolita facade that will precipitate a conflict among the grownups. Meanwhile Pauline's fiancÚ is Malcolm (Jack Black), a perennially unemployed artist and musician, who likes to hang around the house without doing anything other than writing angry letters to politicians and the papers.
Baumbach, having set us up with terminally disfunctional characters, lets everything play out on screen during the weekend of the wedding. Both sisters have extensive sexual histories with many men, but as Margot says to Pauline about Malcolm, "He's like one of the guys we rejected at sixteen." "So who else can I get?" answers Pauline.
There are secrets of all kinds that come out, and not much is resolved by the time the weekend is over, but it wouldn't be true to the complexities of life if it were all that simple. Kidman, particularly, a much better actor than she's been given credit for, has the chance here to play a darker role than she's had lately; she really seems to like the kind that shows off another side of her, like the hungry television personality in Gus Van Sant's "To Die For." And Jennifer Jason Leigh (Baumbach's wife, as it happens), plays her younger sister with an appropriate mix of bravado and insecurity. Baumbach gives the children, too, the chance to interact and learn about life on the cusp of puberty.
In other words, "Margot at the Wedding" is a fascinating, at times difficult, even psychologically draining film that has resonances for all of us. It's been sold as a comedy, and it has funny moments, but when the film is over we think much more about our own lives as revealed by the film, and I like that.
3/21/08 <! new pasted review ends on line above>