Noah Baumbach’s follow-up to the absurdly hilarious 2005 Oscar nominee The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, was near the top of my most-anticipated releases going into fall of last year. The trailer was good. It looked like Nicole Kidman was trying to act again and I was looking forward to seeing Jack Black take on a role that looked like it could push him into dramatic territory. It looked as shrewd and honest as Squid but looked like it might be more rooted in reality than that film. But, when I heard negative reviews upon release I was less-enthused to see it, and whenever I was going to give it a chance, some other film was just a little more enticing.
That all being said, Margot‘s release on DVD finally gave me a chance to sit down and watch it.
Margot at the Wedding is not a bad movie, it’s an ill-advised one. If I were to give it a grade (which I have to) I would give it an “Incomplete.” The movie starts with a boy receiving change and ends just in to a bus ride, and inbetween is a whole lot of nothing. The plot summary is a quick one: Insecure Margot (Kidman) is invited to the wedding of her insecure sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to an unemployed (and insecure) musician named Malcolm (Black). The two sisters haven’t spoken in sometime and as soon as Margot arrives brutally honest judgment begins.
I enjoyed the brutal honesty and non-subtlety that came with Squid and the Whale, but even though the characters in that film were heavily flawed, they were still relatable. Here, the characters are just fucked up. We have siblings that are highly competitive, two cousins that always look like they’re on the verge of making out, and a husband that everyone pities. However, the similarities to Arrested Development end there, because there’s nothing endearing about this dysfunctional family. There’s nothing engaging or interesting about them and the entire experience is extremely uncomfortable. Now, I understand that this discomfort is probably what Baumbach had hoped for, and Lord knows we’ve all had our share of awkward family encounters. The characters are rich with idiosyncracies and inherent contradictions, yes, but Baumbach gives them nothing to do that’s worth watching.
As for the DVD, it’s pretty bare-bones. There’s only one feature here and it’s a conversation between Baumbach and wife JJL. The director and star commisserate about how brilliant Nicole Kidman is and how the relationships between the characters are layered thick with pain and fleeting happiness. When listening to the two of them talk to each other (which is strange because no one conducts the interview–it’s literally a conversation husband and wife could have over breakfast), one thing became clear: Noah Baumbach didn’t do a great job directing Margot at the Wedding. I can tell from the way he talks about these characters that he had pasts and complexities all mapped out for them, and loved working with the cooperative actors. This does not come across for the viewer, and I’m left with the feeling that if this movie had been directed by someone with more of a flair for bringing out internal feelings, like Sideways director Alexander Payne for instance, this could have been a much more worthwhile experience.
High-fives: Jack Black’s performance; some genuinely funny moments.
No-fives: Lack of straight-forward direction; casting Nicole Kidman in a role that would’ve been OWNED by Catherine Keener; all genuinely funny moments are in the film’s trailer.