Margot at the Wedding **
Directed by Noah Baumbach
My anticipation level as I walked into the Elgin for the afternoon screening of "Margot at the Wedding" was almost at an all time high for me. I loved Noah Baumbach's last film "The Squid and the Whale"-and Jeff Daniels not getting an Oscar nod was quite a travesty. But as the film progressed, and then as the credits began to roll, I kind of just sat there for a few minutes wondering what I had just seen, how I felt about it, and why I had this sour taste in my mouth as I walked away. The film just seemed to fail, on several levels, but at the same time I felt that there was just something I missed. And as time went on, I realized that this just was not a good follow up to a great film.
The acting by all three leads are quite good. Nicole Kidman stars as Margot, a woman who has just packed her bags to go to her sisters wedding, and she has taken along her young son Claude, played by Zane Pais whose gender is hard to pick until they say his characters name-more on that later, oddly enough. However Margot has a hidden agenda-she is using her sisters wedding, and the trip, to get away from her husband, who still loves her. Once she arrives, her sister Pauline (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is excited to have her estranged sister back, but Margot doesn't really see what she could see in the man she is going to marry-Malcolm-played by Jack Black who is pretty much doing the Jack Black routine in an indie film. Over the next few days, evens unravel, secrets comes out, and everything seems to relate back to Margot who may think she's doing things right, but may just be blowing it for everything.
This is actually quite the bleak movie. Baumbach takes a happy occasion like a wedding and turns it into one of the circles of hell. For one thing, he pretty much does not pain any of his characters in any kind of good light. And if he can't even seem to like the characters he created, then its obvious that we will hate them too. And we see them in some of their worst lights. When one of the lead adult characters ends up soiling themself, I just lost all hope for anybody getting a shred of happiness. To add on to the bleak nature of the film, Baumbach shoots heavily with natural light on a handheld camera. This is similar to the style used in "The Squid and the Whale, but the difference is that the first film looked like it captured that style because of the low budget and strong indie roots. This film seemed to have been done on a shaky camera, with some washed out images, with blurs, and even more awkward dialogue because Baumbach is trying to take this style and use it for his own. He's really forcing the naturalism, and at times he just made it more painful than "Squid" just for the hell of it.
Many of the little subplots go absolutely nowhere, and the whole film just seems to fish around for something to do. In one scene Margot climbs and tree and gets stuck and the firemen come to get her out. That's it. In another scene, Claude is swimming and looks at the bottom of the pool and we see a mouse scamper by under the water. That's it. I'm kind of guessing that Baumbach is just trying to put these characters in embarassing situations, and the mouse is just a bad omen-why should there be something that dirty in something so pure and new like water? But it doesn't make for good viewing. There is also something going on with the next door neighbors, a plot that goes nowhere. And he also really does have an odd fascination with masturbation-and there are references/scenes here, but not as bad or eerie as "The Squid and the Whale," but it is still there, yet again. The film just really forced a lot on you, and Baumbach is trying strongly to repeat the success of his last movie.
Kidman and Leigh are really the highlight. One thing I noticed was that while "The Squid and the Whale" had a strong focus on male characters, here its the women that get the most focus. Almost every male here is portrayed as a goofball, and while the females don't really have it all together either, Baumbach is certainly looking at a different sex. This is why I think the gender confusion at the start with Margot's son was intentional-maybe he was trying to confuse us to show how her son is really looking more feminine because of the environment he was raised in. Claude is his mother's confident-and they both seem to tell each other everything in an odd Oedipal/incestuous spin on things. And the films abrupt, but rather fitting, ending does make it obvious that this is really a coming of age/mother son relationship film, underneath the adult drama story. "Margot at the Wedding" is really just a mediocre follow up to one of the best movies from 2005. It's not terrible, but does not have the same push that the last film had. That one seemed to have more of a heart behind the camera, and this one I had a hard time spotting it.