Saturday, January 19, 2008

Margot at the Wedding

Wealthy, successful, liberal New Yorkers sit around and complain about the dysfunctions of life and the tragedies of family. Sounds like writer-director Noah Baumbach’s first film, The Squid and the Whale. Although both films share several similar qualities, Baumbach doges a sophomore slump, delivering a fresh take on what feels like used material.

Nicole Kidman is great as the cranky, possessive, narcissistic Margot who travels with her teenage son to attend her sister Pauline’s wedding. Fireworks are set in motion long before Pauline’s not-so-impressive fiancĂ© (Jack Black) is late to pick Margot up from the bus station.

After years of not speaking with one another, Pauline (an excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Margot do their best to remain civil. But civility only goes so far when your sister is such a domineering control freak. Events are set in motion that lead to a disastrous weekend, in which each of the characters will question why they are in their current state, and how the let themselves get there.

Baumbach uses dark exteriors and mostly natural light to fuel his subtle work. His words are sharp and coarse, as the actors flow from screaming matches to ironical laughter. Kidman gives one of her best performances, nailing each unfriendly nuance of a flawed woman. Margot knows her faults, but she’ll be damned to come to terms with them. But it’s Leigh (who is married to Baumbach) that steals the picture. Usually typecast as a prostitute or vagrant, Leigh gets to flex her acting muscle with the utmost form. The Academy should note such powerfully, subtle work. A-

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