December 15, 2007

Margot at the Wedding

Maybe I lost my Oscar up here.

Grade: C
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, Ciarán Hinds, and John Turturro
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

Margot at the Wedding
might be – as writer-director Noah Baumbach has stated – patterned in the style of an Eric Rohmer family comic-drama or, as another critic has put it, the manifestation of a Dorothy Parker poem. Or, as many contend, it could represent Baumbach’s equal-time excoriation of his mother following the thrashing he gave his doppelganger father in The Squid and the Whale. Regardless of its genesis, the director’s latest exercise in familial flagellation is a dreary, indulgent slog through upper-crust bohemia.

As the film opens, the eponymous Margot (Nicole Kidman), a writer of some repute, is traveling with her teenage son Claude (Zane Pais) to her family’s littoral homestead for the wedding of her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a hapless lout named Malcolm (Jack Black). It seems that Margot’s acid tongue once broke up Pauline’s first marriage, and now Margot is in transition of divorcing her husband (John Turturro) and carrying on an affair with her writing partner (Ciarán Hinds).

What ensues is an endless, inane series of passive-aggressive back-biting and reprisals executed by utterly unlikable people – Margot and Pauline are the sort of folk who only laugh whilst recalling the time their younger sister was raped by a horse trainer. Any subtext gets washed away in a sea of ugliness except the vague metaphor of an old family tree whose roots are encroaching onto the property of some inexplicably creepy neighbors. Its eventual collapse onto the wedding tent is less remarkable as symbolism than as a beacon illuminating the last leg of this odious odyssey.

Perhaps we are meant to wallow in schadenfreude from observing the wretched treatment these hollow souls inflict upon one another. However, onlookers might guffaw at monkeys throwing feces at each other in a zoo, but the monkeys are still having a grand old time of it. There and here, the only victims are those lured into spectating the shit. Ultimately, Margot is like the semen young Frank smears on the school walls in Squid and the Whale: the masturbatory byproduct of Baumbach’s ongoing cinematic self-therapy.

Neil Morris

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