Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Margot at the Wedding (2007)

Back in 2005, Stephen King named The Squid and the Whale his favorite movie of the year and in the process called Jeff Daniels' character "an ego-driven monster who demonizes and nearly breaks his children's hearts and minds." So now Noah Baumbach gives us Nicole Kidman as the bride of the monster in his funny, abrasive new movie.

Like all great screen monsters, the brilliant thing about Kidman's Margot is that she doesn't think she's a bad person; travelling to her estranged sister's wedding to a cuddly slacker, she does what she does out of a misguided combination of well-meaning affection, obliviousness, and well-educated condescension. It's an excellent performance and a good reminder of why Kidman is such a good actress after so many clunkers. Kidman has always been too much in her own head to be a Hollywood sweetheart, like Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon, but as her career proceeds she might still be a colder Vanessa Redgrave.

Watching Margot at the Wedding is like watching a slow-motion car wreck, with Margot at the wheel (a metaphor that gets literalized towards the end of the movie) Of course, everyone that Margot comes in contact with is teetering on the verge of neurotic collapse to begin with, needing only a brief comment or two to topple. Watching a group of flawed upper-middle-class people bicker and destroy each others' lives might sound like worse torture porn than the Saw movies, but it works because of the strong performances (especially Kidman, Leigh, and Zane Pais as Kidman's son), but more importantly because Baumbach infuses the demolition derby with the kind of wry humor that you can only get from having been in these situations, realizing how awful and absurd it all is to begin with, the knowledge that ties that bind one to their family can just as easily be anchor chains dragging a person down. There's bitter truth in this movie, leavened by the comedy of experience. I liked it a lot.


cjKennedy said...

Does it make any sense to say that this was the funniest movie I've seen all year that I actually almost hated?

I think I just wanted it to add up to something that it didn't. I left the theater entertained, but unfulfilled.

Maybe the one should be enough, but I saw The Savages right afterward and it felt like here was a similar movie about disfuncitonal families that was funny and abrasive, but it also had a beating heart. The ending was a little too neat and tidy, but otherwise I liked it alot.

Margot, not so much.

Great performances though (I'm not one of the Nicole haters. I've always quite liked her), and funny but ultimately kind of unpleasant in a way I didn't enjoy.

Actionman said...

I am pissed that I still haven't seen this film yet...

I loved Squid and The Whale said...

Nice review but man, I haaaaaated this film. Hated it. There was nothing redeeming about it whatsoever except for the part where Kidman is talking about the definition of "insufferable" which was only funny because the movie was insufferable.

Jeff McMahon said...

Glad you liked the review even if you didn't like the movie.

Since there isn't a proper narrative conclusion I can see why one might not feel 'fulfilled' but the movie is, after all, just an episode of extreme awfulness within these peoples' lives and in a sense any 'closure' would have been counter to the spirit of fucked-up-edness of it all.

I'm curious why people hate it, exactly - too mean? I thought the problem of 'no likeable characters' was mitigated by the presence of Zane Pais (the film's real protagonist) and Jack Black, who stays pretty charming. said...

My honest opinion of the film is this...

Baumbach loves being a smug, NY dickhead. As with most smug dickheads Nationwide, they seem to know EVERYTHING. If you think you had a bad childhood, they will one up you on how awful theirs was..and that's common for most people.

Yet when he had his pity party with SQUID AND THE WHALE, people found some truth and sweetness to that film, much like KICKING AND SCREAMING. But SQUID was Baumbach's super pity party and when people found sweetness there, I honestly feel he did MARGOT to show just how not sweet his childhood was.

Everyone likes to out shitty one another. If you said you got in a car wreck and bruised a rib, one of your buddies can't wait to tell you how your injury was nothing compared to theirs. MARGOT feels like Baumbachs way of outdoing the shitty factor he set in SQUID that "too many" people related to.

MARGOT is spiteful and lame and poorly executed. Blah.

Jeff McMahon said...

Well, since I found it funny, honest, and well-made I guess we can only agree to disagree.

cjKennedy said...

It wasn't so much the lack of a pat conclusion that left me unfulfilled, I just wondered why I'd bothered spending 2 hours with these people.

Funny? Yes. Like a car wreck. But somehow I was expecting something more than that.

I have to say, I laughed quite a bit. I enjoyed myself watching the movie, but after it was all over I felt empty and the farther I get from it, the less I find myself liking it.

Like I could eat a whole tub of frosting because it tastes good, but it's bad for me and would make me sick to my stomach afterwards.

Did I mention I liked Squid and the Whale?

Jeff McMahon said...

I can see the tub of frosting analogy applying to something that you know in advance is going to be purely vacuous, like an Alvin & the Chipmunks or Transformers. With this movie I can't think of a good dessert analogy. I found it to be entertaining and fun on the outside but covering a core of honesty and simple character truths. I saw it with my friend Joe White and as we were walking out one the first thoughts we each had was that it was like an Ingmar Bergman movie, but funny. I think if you think of in those terms, as pure character study, it makes more sense.