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Movie Review: Margot at the Wedding

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Margot at the Wedding
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach
Paramount Vantage

Baumbach made one of the funniest dialogue-driven movies with Kicking and Screaming back in 1995, and didn’t really get back into the spotlight until he co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Wes Anderson in 2004.  In 2005, he made his critical darling The Squid and the Whale, a good balance of comedy and drama that showed he could do those “perfect mix” movies that weren’t too heavy or too light.

Movies like The Squid and the Whale are a high-wire act at times, though.  A little too far one way or another and the movie tends to crumble a bit.  Margot at the Wedding is one of those episodic films in which a writer/director has a point he or she would like to share, and the narrative suffers because of it.

Margot (Nicole Kidman) is traveling with her son Claude (Zane Pais) to her sister Pauline’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding.  Pauline is marrying Malcolm (Jack Black), an overweight, scruffy, non-achiever.  She has a daughter Ingrid (Flora Cross) from a previous marriage, which Margot might have been in some ways responsible for ending.  They haven’t spoken to each other in some time.

Margot is married to Jim (John Turturro in a cameo), but is having an affair with Dick Koosman (Ciaran Hinds), who just happens to live a mile away from Pauline, who thinks maybe Margot only came to save face but mostly as a convenience to continue the extramarital activity.  Koosman has a well-developed underage daughter Maisy (Halley Feiffer), that many men eye inappropriately.

The movie’s setup offers Baumbach the chance to show that the people who love each other will say the most awful things to each other with the cloak of sincerity.  And in a competitive relationship, such as the one Pauline and Margot have (at one point, they’re in a small debate as to who slept with the most people and Margot asks, “Do you want to count?” in a controlled, yet daring, manner), those people will do anything, even unconciously, to tear each other down.

The big plotline is that Margot disapproves of Malcolm in such a way that, as Malcolm later declares to Pauline, “Now that Margot is here and she doesn’t like me, you’re trying to look for stuff.”  I would have been completely onboard with this film if it had been more focused on this relationship between the three.  We have antisocial creepy neighbors clogging up the story, a missing dog that doesn’t add anything, the contrived Margot-Dick affair, not to mention some rather pointless scenes involving the kids.  All of these misdirect and weigh down the heart of the film.

So, Baumbach misses the balance here and the movie suffers because of it. 

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