Margot at the Wedding

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Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Margot at the Wedding

Time Out rating:

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Time Out says

Tue Feb 26 2008

In 2005, Noah Baumbach wrote and directed ‘The Squid and the Whale’, a peep-through-the-fingers account of growing up in the 1980s in an ego-rich, cash-poor literary household in Brooklyn. Two years later, ‘Margot at the Wedding’ is not a million brownstones away.

It’s another tale of self-absorbed East Coast intellectuals and their emotional blindspots. It’s contemporary, but you’d hardly know it: Baumbach and cinematographer Harris Savides (‘Elephant’, ‘Zodiac’) shoot in a direct, washed-out fashion that places the film mid-Atlantic in the late 1970s or early ’80s and gives it the look of  light-polluted snaps that have been rescued from a drawer.

And that’s exactly what this drama feels like: moments of intimacy uneasily revealed for our pleasure. Margot (Nicole Kidman) is a New York writer whose marriage is on the skids and heads to the coast with her young son, Claude (Zane Pais) to visit her fragile, near-estranged sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Her reasons are muddled. There’s an imminent wedding: Pauline is to marry overweight, useless Malcolm (Jack Black) whose chief skill is spending an entire day writing letters to papers. But Margot is also planning to take part in a bookshop Q&A hosted by an old flame, Dick (Ciarán Hinds).

Family isn’t a happy thought for these rarefied folk. Fireworks start to smoulder slowly as soon as Margot walks through the door of Pauline’s house. Hang-ups, rivalries, skeletons and demons emerge. The narrative style is effective: short, sharp scenes which lunge us into the action and haul us out quickly. Like Margot, the language is arch and self-possessed. ‘What was it about dad that had us fucking so many guys?’ Margot wonders.

Even her son Claude, who looks 11 or 12, is the sort of kid who tells his mum, ‘I masturbated last night.’ These are horrible people. There’s a wild accusation of paedophilia at one point but really none of these adults should be let anywhere near children. As in ‘Squid’, it’s the kids who look sane.

Kidman pulls off the same mix of frosty and floaty that Laura Linney adopted for ‘Squid’. She is good as the unlikeable Margot – as is Leigh as Pauline, a damaged soul putting on a front. But our interest in a growing supporting cast waxes and wanes. Black isn’t up to scratch; his acting is shallow. There’s a rising air of melodrama (something which one of Baumbach’s inspirations, Eric Rohmer, would always avoid) and some duff lines too – not least the one about adults soiling their pants.

As with ‘Squid’, Baumbach’s interest in families – a distinct Baumbachian sort of family – is acute and his observations often painful and delivered with a dry wit. But there’s less humour and more hysteria in this clasutrophobic chamber piece that wavers between being utterly fascinating and utterly annoying – and is more interesting as a series of encounters than a satisfying whole.
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Technoguy

Margot at the Wedding is an indie film about real people and has a circular structure.It starts with a train ride from Manhatton to Long Island by Margot , a writer, and her son Claude. She is ostensibly going to see her sister Pauline(Leigh) who has invited her to her future wedding to Malcolm(Black). However there are conflicts and repressed memories from the past that resurface. Pauline is laid-back new agey and welcoming. However she still feels Margot(Kidman) has stolen from her life by putting it in fiction, exposing confidential areas of private feeling close to her identity. Margot is a successful writer and is married to a writer, Turturro, a decent man who she wants leave and her lover, Ciarron Hinds, lives nearby and he is going to have a dialogue with her at a local bookshop reading. This is the real reason she has come to her sister’s wedding. She has not told her son Claude she wants to leave his father. She destroys everything she touches and causes havoc. Kidman is a revelation as an angry, vitriolic, embittered , sarcastic borderline personality disorder. She tells her son inappropriate things like her sister’s pregnancy which Pauline forbade her to tell anybody. She does not want to pressurise Malcolm into marrying her but to do it of his own free will. She also does not wish to tell her daughter, Ingrid just yet, worrying how she’ll take it. However Claude tells Ingrid and Malcolm finds out. Ingrid does not wish for a sister and sulks. Malcolm is OK about it but wants to punch Margot. The two sisters have ‘lighter’moments: Pauline dares Margot to climb a favourite tree only for her to panic once she’s up it and get stuck, only to be freed by the fire brigade. The sisters reveal laughingly what drove them to have so much sex in their teens was their desire to escape from their abusive father, who had raped a third sister(not present). Margot dislikes Malcolm and wonders why her sister is going to marry him. She says he’s the sort of slacker they both rejected in their teens. However Pauline has a good relationship with Malcom, he makes her laugh and provides her(and Margot) with real comic relef. He has his moments of anger and moods but he provides Pauline with a safety-valve release and is not dangerous like Margot. Margot reveals everything and gives everything precious away. Margot both clings to her son while she is in transition and he clings to her prior to puberty as he grows into a more interesting phase of his development. Margot’s plans go awry when she is humiliated by her lover publicly, leading to a kind of breakdown. Also Malcolm is revealed as more inappropriate as a future husband having groped the baby sitter. He gets beaten up by her father, Ciarron Hinds. Black plays a pivotal role in the film and is superb casting. Zane Pais too has marvellous emotional intelligence as Claude, who is hurt by his mother but loves her. She wants to put him on a bus to his father and stay but in the end can’t and runs to get on the bus.This is where the film ends on another journey. Baumbach, the writer-director has stolen the mojo of Woody Allen in his Bergman phase. He succeeds where Allen failed. He also pays homage to French directors like Rhomer andGodard in his fluent technical style and attack of the subject. The emblematic cutting down of the family tree because it’s roots have invaded a redneck neighbour’s garden only for it to fall on the wedding tent are symbolic of this dysfunctional family's fortunes. Best of all to s Kidman throw her all into an unlikeable character.

Technoguy

Margot at the Wedding is an indie film about real people and has a circular structure.It starts with a train ride from Manhatton to Long Island by Margot , a writer, and her son Claude. She is ostensibly going to see her sister Pauline(Leigh) who has invited her to her future wedding to Malcolm(Black). However there are conflicts and repressed memories from the past that resurface. Pauline is laid-back new agey and welcoming. However she still feels Margot(Kidman) has stolen from her life by putting it in fiction, exposing confidential areas of private feeling close to her identity. Margot is a successful writer and is married to a writer, Turturro, a decent man who she wants leave and her lover, Ciarron Hinds, lives nearby and he is going to have a dialogue with her at a local bookshop reading. This is the real reason she has come to her sister’s wedding. She has not told her son Claude she wants to leave his father. She destroys everything she touches and causes havoc. Kidman is a revelation as an angry, vitriolic, embittered , sarcastic borderline personality disorder. She tells her son inappropriate things like her sister’s pregnancy which Pauline forbade her to tell anybody. She does not want to pressurise Malcolm into marrying her but to do it of his own free will. She also does not wish to tell her daughter, Ingrid just yet, worrying how she’ll take it. However Claude tells Ingrid and Malcolm finds out. Ingrid does not wish for a sister and sulks. Malcolm is OK about it but wants to punch Margot. The two sisters have ‘lighter’moments: Pauline dares Margot to climb a favourite tree only for her to panic once she’s up it and get stuck, only to be freed by the fire brigade. The sisters reveal laughingly what drove them to have so much sex in their teens was their desire to escape from their abusive father, who had raped a third sister(not present). Margot dislikes Malcolm and wonders why her sister is going to marry him. She says he’s the sort of slacker they both rejected in their teens. However Pauline has a good relationship with Malcom, he makes her laugh and provides her(and Margot) with real comic relef. He has his moments of anger and moods but he provides Pauline with a safety-valve release and is not dangerous like Margot. Margot reveals everything and gives everything precious away. Margot both clings to her son while she is in transition and he clings to her prior to puberty as he grows into a more interesting phase of his development. Margot’s plans go awry when she is humiliated by her lover publicly, leading to a kind of breakdown. Also Malcolm is revealed as more inappropriate as a future husband having groped the baby sitter. He gets beaten up by her father, Ciarron Hinds. Black plays a pivotal role in the film and is superb casting. Zane Pais too has marvellous emotional intelligence as Claude, who is hurt by his mother but loves her. She wants to put him on a bus to his father and stay but in the end can’t and runs to get on the bus.This is where the film ends on another journey. Baumbach, the writer-director has stolen the mojo of Woody Allen in his Bergman phase. He succeeds where Allen failed. He also pays homage to French directors like Rhomer andGodard in his fluent technical style and attack of the subject. The emblematic cutting down of the family tree because it’s roots have invaded a redneck neighbour’s garden only for it to fall on the wedding tent are symbolic of this dysfunctional family's fortunes. Best of all to s Kidman throw her all into an unlikeable character.

steve m

The main brilliance of this film is the huge amount of honest humanity it contains. If you are unable to see that everyday life and people are often disjointed and pointless, and sometimes even brutal, then this movie will be beyond you. The critics seem to be either utterly clueless (David, above, with his need for a "story") or desperately trying to nurture their own hipness, a quality, of course, they deride in others (Martin, above).

steve m

The main brilliance of this film is the huge amount of honest humanity it contains. If you are unable to see that everyday life and people are often disjointed and pointless, and sometimes even brutal, then this movie will be beyond you. The critics seem to be either utterly clueless (David, above, with his need for a "story") or desperately trying to nurture their own hipness, a quality, of course, they deride in others (Martin, above).

Martin Schildberg

Being a fan of mid-nineties indie cinema, I like most of Baumbach's work, excusing his utter pretentiousness at times. The script reminds me of the bad films woody allen did to emmulate bergman. The cinematography, though very nice work by Savides, seems like every Oliver Assayas film you've ever seen. The film tries to deal with these themes on a real level, but ends up being pretentious and self-important. It almost seems as if he's a hipster with his films. They copy good films badly, in the hope that the person watching it will take his version as the original. This was also evident when co-writing Life Aquatic - a failed attempt to copy a style Wilson and Anderson developed before it was "cool."

johnny rook

brilliant writing, and great acting. I can't wait to see more from Baumbach. This film has been misunderstood by a few critics who have their heads up their own asses.

johnny rook

brilliant writing, and great acting. I can't wait to see more from Baumbach. This film has been misunderstood by a few critics who have their heads up their own asses.

David Williams

Amazing to me what critics claim is brilliant writing. This film sported some decent acting but where was the story? Disjointed and utterly pointless.