Noah Baumbach's characters have always been slightly maladjusted, but they never felt unreal. Margot at the Wedding changes that. In his latest film, he transplants characters from a Todd Solondz film into a movie that is too dramatic, tonally, when compared to its characters.
One of those characters is Margot (Nicole Kidman), a writer from Manhattan, who takes her son Claude (Zane Pais) to her estranged sister's wedding. The depressed, dejected scribe hasn't told her son that she's trying to leave his father for a writer who lives near her sister, which is why dad didn't come to the family event.
Margot hasn't talked to her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in years. She's coming to the wedding more to escape her husband than to be with her sister. When Margot meets Pauline's slacker husband Malcolm (Jack Black), Margot's overly critical nature is directed at a perfect target.
Calling Margot unlikeable is a gross understatement. Calling her anything more than a cliché would in turn be an overstatement. While we have plenty of reasons to pity her – self-hatred, an abusive father, low self-esteem – we can't help but exclaim, “What are you thinking?!” when she asks her son if he's been talking about her behind her back.
Part of the problem is Kidman, who is never really in tune with just how ludicrous her character's actions are. Kidman is too subtle and too comedically inept for the role. When she is thrown into a scene with Black, particularly the one where they are discussing jobs, the banter is an uneven back-and-fourth of pseudo-comedy from a comedian and exhaustingly tense drama from a dramatic actress.
Maybe the most upsetting part of the film is watching Claude interact with his mother while he experiences his own sexual awakening. Claude is treated as a secondary character, but his sensitivity and disturbing interaction with a unbalanced mother make his character the only one that is worth our concern.
Consider watching a dramatic version of Running with Scissors where Annette Bening's unstable mother character is the lead and her son is supporting. That's what it's like watching Margot at the Wedding. It lacks honesty. It lacks humor. It lacks entertainment value and artistic integrity. It lacks most anything that should make a film worth watching. In fact, if you think your family is screwed up, you may still have a better time with them than you would have watching Margot at the Wedding.
"A Conversation With Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh"
Margot at the Wedding, written and directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Nicole Kidman, Jack Black and Jennifer Jason Leigh, is available on DVD Tuesday, February 19, 2008.