MONKEY REVIEW: Margot At The Wedding

February 28, 2008

“That was a lot of running…”

“When it makes me so uncomfortable I want to turn it off, that’s when I know I’m watching something awesome,” Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) said last year in an Entertainment Weekly article, responding to an observation that “[a] lot of comedy these days…comes out of discomfort and awkwardness.” Using Rogen’s criterion for awesome, I think it could be said that Noah Baumbach’s last two movies, The Squid And The Whale and his latest work Margot At The Wedding, are two of the most awesome movies in recent years. Both films are about families in crisis, The Squid And The Whale focusing on the disintergration of a marriage, and Margot At The Wedding focusing on the beginning of one, the title character (Nicole Kidman) showing up at her estranged sister’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding with more than a few doubts. In both films, the adults behave poorly, and their children suffer accordingly, a cycle we find is being mindlessly repeated by the adults in Margot. Though Margot says at one point to another character, “Sweetie, I’m sorry. There’s something wrong with me,” we aren’t confident that this is going to be a turning point in their relationship. But then Baumbach’s films, beginning with his debut, Kicking And Screaming, aren’t really about people making turning points in their lives, but rather about how they are unable or unwilling to make them. Out of these seemingly grim circumstances, Baumbach is still able to mine some comedy, as Margot At The Wedding is frequently very funny, often as it’s simultaneously painful or heartbreaking, or else, to get back to Rogen’s comment, while it’s making you supremely uncomfortable. The cast, which also includes Jack Black and Zane Pais (as Margot’s young son), is first rate. Kidman in particular is good, as she manages to make a character that is for the most part very unlikeable somehow sympathetic. I also admired Baumbach’s almost stubbornly unsentimental approach to his material, often cutting away from emotional scenes where other directors would linger. Margot At The Wedding may be difficult to watch sometimes, and it’s certainly not perfect, but there are few films out there that are so honest and insightful about the mysteries, joys and utter pain of family relationships.

MONKEY RATING: ONE MONKEY

(For a brief explanation of the Monkey Review rating system, click here.)

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