Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, John Turturro, Ciaran Hinds
Director: Noah Baumbach
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 92 Minutes
Release Date: February 19, 2008

ďMake sure you can handle rejection. I canít.Ē


Film ***

If thereís one thing I can say right off the bat about writer/director Noah Baumbachís Margot At the Wedding, itís by far the most difficult film to recommend to anyone. Baumbach, whose films are quite personal and somewhat reflective of his own life growing up, has made a bold piece here in which there are basically no sympathetic characters. This is dark comedy of a most unusual sort.

Baumbach was a filmmaker that was completely under my radar until I discovered his acclaimed gem of a film, The Squid and the Whale, two years ago. It was a film that managed to be effortlessly hilarious while at the same time being quite observant in its depiction of a family breaking apart. And Baumbachís superb writing and directing won me over, combining the storytelling qualities of Woody Allen with the filmmaking style of Wes Anderson.

But even if you were won over by that filmís quirky and daring characterizations, you still might not be prepared for the overall gloom and feel-bad hysterics that surround the characters in Margot At the Wedding. The movie is not an easy one to enjoy, and that was no doubt Baumbachís sole intention. He clearly wanted you to feel like you were spending a weekís vacation with the family from hell.

The portrait of the dysfunctional family is nothing new in the movies, but never has the true sense of dread that comes with such a family reuniting for any event felt more uncomfortable. Being able to find the comedy in such an emotionally draining atmosphere has to be a most difficult task, but since Noah Baumbach himself experienced life in such a family, finding the laughs was most likely anything but difficult. Writing and directing these personal stories is, in my opinion, Baumbachís way of therapy.

The film opens with Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her eldest son, Claude (Zane Pais), taking the train from Manhattan to the coast to attend the wedding of her sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The two sisters are actually not on speaking terms, and havenít been for quite some time. In fact, Margot was not planning on attending the event in the first place.

Why wouldnít she want to attend? Well, first I should mention that Margot is a novelist and has never hesitated to speak her mind about anything and anyone even in the most judgmental fashion. And she is less than thrilled with the man her sister is about to marry, Malcolm (Jack Black).

It isnít so much Malcolm that Margot isnít too fond of, even though she canít picture him as a supportive husband, but rather the notion that her sister has decided to get married after knowing him for a short period of time. Pauline, who occupies the big family house, has one teenage daughter, Ingrid (Flora Cross), and has another one on the way. Clearly, from her point of view, Pauline is not making a good decision.

But as it turns out, Margotís reason for attending the wedding has nothing to do with supporting her sister, but rather that of a selfish indulgence. She is hoping to rekindle a love affair with Dick Koosman (Ciaran Hinds), a fellow writer who lives nearby on the coast. This happens to be the exact reason why Margot didnít ask her husband (John Turturro) to come along.

So by now, one should be able to foresee that all hell will break loose with this dysfunctional family from hell. Old wounds will indeed be opened up, most of which dealing with Margot and Paulineís resenting of each other, as well as what let to it all. And Margotís use of family members as character basis for some her past novels, resulting in profit and acclaim, is another issue that will likely surface.

I have to give the actors a high level of credit, as this is some of the riskiest material that the notable cast has been attached to. Iím not the worldís biggest Nicole Kidman fan, as I find her to be one of the more typecasts actresses around. But when she takes chances and plays unique characters, as she does every once in a while, she is simply outstanding as an actress. She embodies the character of Margot from beginning to end, and she does an amazing job of making her incredibly unsympathetic, which in this case is a good thing.

And fans of Jack Black will be incredibly surprised by his performance here. Up until this film, he hasnít really done a role so serious in tone. Though Mr. Black acquires a great deal of the filmís funny dialogue, he reveals a side of him that audiences havenít seen yet.

In the end, Margot At the Wedding is a film I can only express admiration for more than I can recommend to any particular person. As I mentioned earlier, itís not an easy film to enjoy, and Baumbachís depiction of family hell is bound to be the most authentic one youíll ever see. He knows family wounds all too well, as well as how to find the hilarity within those wounds.

BONUS: Noah Baumbach is married to co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Video ***

This release from Paramount provides quite a terrific anamorphic picture. Baumbachís independent filmmaking approach is evident the appearance of the picture alone. He purposefully under lights numerous scenes, aiming for a more natural type of film environment. An unusual type of picture quality, but one that is without flaws.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix provides a dynamic balance between all the various sound elements. The two key elements at hand are dialogue delivery, which is terrifically clear and well heard, and the setting of the coastal home, which provides superb moments of waves crashing in the background. The mellow rock music on the soundtrack is also heard in tremendous form.

Features *

The features include a thirteen minute featurette titled ďA Conversation with Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason LeighĒ, as well as Two Theatrical Trailers as well as Bonus Previews.


You donít get a farce with Margot At the Wedding, but instead that of a more brutal, razor sharp comedy about characters who are frustrating, but as realistic as can be. It wonít be an easy watch for everyone, but who admired Noah Baumbachís previous work will fully appreciate his approach to the material.

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