Paramount // 2007 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // February 19th, 2008
One family. Infinite degrees of separation.
Noah Baumbach's previous film The Squid and the Whale was based on his own childhood experiences. His latest flick Margot at the Wedding is not at all autobiographical, but it's still just as brilliant. The charge alone speaks for the whole film. As you would expect from Baumbach, the plot centers on emotional mayhem in a ruthlessly dysfunctional family in the days leading up to a wedding. How ironic.
Nicole Kidman jumps into the challenging role of Margot Zeller, a short-story writer from Manhattan who doesn't really know what the future will hold for her. Together with her son Claude (Zane Pais), Margot decides to visit her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who's about to get married to Malcolm (Jack Black), an unemployed musician who appears to spend an awful lot of time writing response letters to music magazines.
Shortly after Margot's arrival, she provokes a series of unfortunate events that will eventually risk tearing the entire family apart once and for all. Pauline didn't really expect this disastrous family reunion to interfere with her wedding, but with Margot in the house, no one seems to be safe from a psychological breakdown.
Margot at the Wedding primarily focuses on the family's complex relationships. We never really learn why Margot and her sister Pauline don't talk to each other, but we get to witness how estranged they really are. The characters in the film spend a lot of time hiding their feelings and pretending everything is fine, at least until they start to realize their lives are more troubled than they thought. Baumbach carefully explores the relationships between his characters, putting each of them into a desperate situation they can't get out of alone. Margot, for instance, has marriage problems herself, and she openly tells her sister that Malcolm is not the right husband for her. In one sense, Margot provokes nothing but trouble, but as the story slowly develops, viewers will get the chance to second-guess her behavior and reevaluate her actions. Herein lies the beauty of Baumbach's writing. He always creates realistic, yet completely unpredictable characters dealing with everyday problems in unconventional ways.
Besides the more dramatic aspect of the film, Margot at the Wedding also features a solid dose of delicious humor. From a messed-up cricket game to a hilarious feud with creepy neighbors, the film is made up of a number of energetic sequences loaded with laughter. Baumbach does a great job at balancing subtle humor with serious drama, thus preventing a monotonous plot dominated by a depressing atmosphere. His jokes are perfectly timed and mix in just fine with the central story, creating a light but engaging atmosphere adherents of independent filmmaking will love to get lost in. His direction remains simple and he mostly opts for longer takes, offering his actors a chance to play their scenes convincingly and without many interruptions.
A solid script is undoubtedly vital to a film's reception among film critics and passionate moviegoers, but a great cast is just as important. Luckily, Margot at the Wedding features some of the most subtle performances of the year. Nicole Kidman is deliciously hysterical as the lead character, constantly spurring controversy among her closest family members. At first it may feel a little odd watching her without makeup in such a complex role, but she knows exactly what she's doing. In what may be one of her best roles yet, Jennifer Jason Leigh jumps into the role of Margot's fabulously frantic sister Pauline. Together, they create two completely authentic siblings who just don't seem to get along. Even Jack Black offers a refreshing performance as a more serious character, playing the funny part of Pauline's weird fiancée Malcolm.
Cinematographer Harris Savides apparently shot most of the film in natural light to create a dim look and atmosphere, but the picture quality, though indeed darker than usual, is top-notch. The transfer on the disc is refreshingly clean and enjoyable. As far as the audio transfer is concerned, the movie hardly uses any music in the background, thus putting major importance on dialogues. Many of them take place outside, but the sound is always very crisp and clear.
The special features section on the DVD is not really impressive. Besides two theatrical trailers and a trailer gallery showcasing the latest Paramount Vantage releases, the bonus material only includes a 12-minute conversation with Noah Baumbach and his wife Jennifer Jason Leigh. Baumbach and Leigh mostly talk about their experiences working with Nicole Kidman and Jack Black. They also briefly touch on the main thematic in the film, and Baumbach tells his viewers a little bit more about his decision to shoot longer takes. It's a rather short interview and I personally would have preferred a filmmaker's commentary to go along with the feature film, but it's better than nothing. Those of you who really appreciate Baumbach's work should definitely check it out.
Fans of independent filmmaking will most likely adore the compelling thematic and smooth plot of Margot at the Wedding, which, despite a few tiny weaknesses, remains a hilariously enjoyable family drama. This is a wedding you wouldn't want to miss at any cost.
Given all the evidence, I now pronounce this film not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* A Conversation with Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh
* Official Site