December 1, 2007

REVIEW: Margot at the Wedding (C-)

Background: Writer/director Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale was the critics' darling in 2005, and earned Baumbach his first Oscar nomination. He tries the same recipe of quirky family dysfunction with a dash of mental illness in Margot at the Wedding, starring Nicole Kidman (The Invasion), Baumbach's wife Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Anniversary Party), and Jack Black (The Holiday). John Turturro (Transformers, The Good Shepard) and Ciaran Hinds (The Nativity Story, Amazing Grace) act in supporting roles. You may notice a faded bronze fog in many of the shots due to cinematographer's Harris Savides use of old lenses while filming.

Synopsis: Self-absorbed author/columnist Margot (Kidman) and her son Claude (Zane Pais) are off to Margot's childhood Long Island home for the weekend, where her hippie sister Pauline (Leigh) is preparing to marry unemployed Malcolm (Black) under the old climbing tree. All three adults are selfish, immature, and mentally unbalanced - a flammable combination when you throw in psychotic hillbilly neighbors, Margot's cloying husband Jim (Turturro), her former lover Dick (Hinds), and his sexually charged teenage daughter. In the days leading up to the wedding, screaming matches and spontaneous bawling outbursts are the norm, with a few disgusting scenes sprinkled in for a change of pace. At the end, each character is still immature and utterly miserable.

I Loved:
+ The first parts of the first scene on the train.

I Liked:
+ Jack Black, when he was in control.
+ The acting debut of Zane Pais as Claude.
+ John Turturro - is this guy ever bad?

I Disliked:
- One of the most truly frightening moments of the year - you'll know it when you see it.
- Nicole Kidman's continual inability to speak with an "American" accent - compare hers with Jennifer Jason Leigh's if you somehow need any evidence.

I Hated:
- Every character. "Despised" is a better word.
- Nicole Kidman's glasses.
- The unrealistically honest and disgustingly personal dialogue.

Writing - 6
Acting - 8
Production - 7
Emotional Impact - 6
Music - 5
Significance - 4

Total: 36/50= 72% = C-

Last Word: There are two lines spoken at the end of Margot at the Wedding that accurately summarize the movie: "You don't need to tell me that, sweetie," & "Hey - you're acting like a baby." That's pretty much what I was thinking throughout the whole movie, as every character had multiple mental breakdowns - none more outrageous than Jack Black's final freakout. If annoying, chemically dependent, self-absorbed, neurotic characters are your thing, than Margot at the Wedding is for you. For the rest of us it's an unbearable crash course in failed marriages, failed families, failed parents, and manic depression. Noah Baumbach was able to find at least some comedy in The Squid and the Whale, but this is more cringe-inducing than anything. Are these unbearably cruel characters supposed to be charming in some pitiful way? Am I supposed to feel sorry for them? I'd rather spend time with the Vogler neighbors next door. Well, maybe not, but I would surely have a difficult time tolerating adults who act more immaturely than their children. Margot at the Wedding is like reliving all of your nastiest family arguments, with never a second to come up for air. Psychoanalytic New Yorkers (especially Baumbach) love to write and praise these oh-so-intellectual films as examples of their own tragic upbringings, but the inaccessible, esoteric family dysfunction really is tragic, not comedic, and the morally void characters in Margot at the Wedding are nothing to laugh about. Maybe that's the real tragedy here - an unfunny movie starring Jack Black.


  1. I agree with everything you wrote right up until the last line. Jack Black and unfunny are soul mates.

  2. Ha, lately that's definitely the case. The Holiday, King Kong, Nacho Libre, Envy - ENVY! Did anybody else see that ( the theater...)!? If not, it's on your "Worst Movies I've Never Seen" list.

    He gets about five bad ones for every good one, though - Shallow Hal, School of Rock. I think Be Kind Rewind with Mos Def has potential.

    I had to do a double-take flipping channels the other night when I came across an old movie starring Jack Black. You guessed it - 1994's The Neverending Story III: Return to Fantasia. His billed character: Slip, Leader of the Nasties.

    How did this guy's career even develop? Check out his credits - he's all over the place! "Life Goes On," Demolition Man, "Northern Exposure," Airborne, Dead Man Walking, "Touched by an Angel"...and of course Tenacious D.

    I still think he's funny.

  3. i disagree... i found so many wonderful moments in the movie. it wasn't the best, but i see a maturity from squid and the whale. i feel the brilliance was in the film's ability to convey mental instability while maintaining their intellectual credibility. i can see how the film can annoy the pants off of people, but for audiences who are able admit their neurosis, the characters are very relatable(?) and real.

  4. A-ha - a different opinion. Great!

    I'll concede that the balance you described did exist, but the dialogue was just way too snarky for me!


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