As the titular Margot, Nicole Kidman does the yeoman's share of the work here, as the bitchy and borderline sociopathic older sister who's reluctantly comes up from Manhattan to her sister Pauline's wedding at the ancestral country home, where she's marrying a guy she finds barely even worthy of her contempt. "He's not ugly, he's just completely unattractive," is one of the many evil bon mots that Baumbach gives Kidman to spit out in her seemingly compulsive need to find fault in and drive to despair anyone within eyesight. She makes quite a pair with Jennifer Jason Leigh as Pauline, the two of them strangely beautiful while nestled under stringy and flyaway mouse-brown mops. Kidman's eyes are flashing and penetrating as Leigh's are dreamy, the two of them seemingly not of this planet but in entirely different ways.
There's some ugly secret back in the familial past of this punchy and screwed-up family unit which has left them unable to truly connect to the other humans surrounding them, but there's not going to be any great reveal, as evidenced by Pauline's half-hearted attempt to psychoanalyze her and Margot's speedy bedhopping in their younger years. Meanwhile, the venom that boils inside Margot keeps spilling out, whether it's in attacking Pauline's fiancé Malcolm (Jack Black playing a less manic version of his standard oaf), criticizing the son she's dragged along, or loudly critiquing the parenting skills exhibited by the dangerous rednecks living next door (non-urbanites being a rare and not exactly understood species in Baumbach's work).
While the marriage of Pauline and Malcolm hardly seems ideal (she's a space cadet while he's a prototypically unambitious slacker), they do seem a comfortable pair with an easy, lived-in rapport. But that doesn't deter Margot, an emotional terrorist hell-bent on destruction, who's left a caring husband (John Turturro) behind in the city in order to sabotage what's left of her life by carrying on an affair with an author (Ciarán Hinds, practically the only adult on view here) who lives near Pauline. One gets the feeling that the viewer is only dipping briefly into this dysfunctional stream, that the bitter badinage between all the characters as the wedding plans slowly unravel is just the same as it has always been, no better or worse. Lessons will most likely not be learned and attitudes only hardened, never changed.
While Margot at the Wedding is certainly a smart and honestly ugly film, with well-toned dialogue and an acute understanding of neurotic compulsion, it's hard to see it as anything but a minor piece of work; a stop-off on Baumbach's road to (hopefully) bigger things. Or, he could follow Rohmer's path; there are worse things.
It's a pink wedding. All pink.
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 21st February 2008
Box Office USA: $1.9M
Distributed by: Paramount Vantage
Production compaines: Paramount Vantage
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Fresh: 86 Rotten: 78
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: Noah Baumbach
Producer: Scott Rudin
Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Starring: Nicole Kidman as Margot, Jack Black as Malcolm, Jennifer Jason Leigh as Pauline, John Turturro as Jim, Ciarán Hinds as Dick Koosman, Halley Feiffer as Maisy Koosman, Flora Cross as Ingrid, Ashlie Atkinson as Becky, Matthew Arkin as Alan, Seth Barrish as Toby