Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING - a step back from SQUID

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is a film about a selfish, hateful novelist who arrives at her sister's house and proceeds to hurt everyone in her path, not least her own son. She is a rather savage figure, and despite the fact that writer/director Noah Baumbach creates a realistic, fully-fleshed portrait, I found it hard to have any empathy for her or to be interested in what she did. Some way through the film, another callous author (Ciaran Hinds) brutally exposes Margot (Nicole Kidman) at a public reading. I thought this might have been cathartic. Up until that point, I would have happily slapped Margot myself, so presumably I would have enjoyed seeing her skewered? But I felt neither happiness at, nor sympathy for, her downfall. Just mild irritation that I had to witness yet another selfish, hateful novelist inflicting pain on others.

So what is there to hold our interest in this film? Jennifer Jason-Leigh gives a wonderful performance as Margot's kind-hearted but weak-willed younger sister, Pauline. Despite all the punishment Margot deals her, Pauline still loves her and listens to her. Jack Black is also marvellous in a small role, playing it relatively straight. He seems all the more funny the more he is hemmed in by a stern script and director, and he plays one of the few love-able characters in the movie.

Other than that, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is a pretty dismal affair. And that
extends to the production design and the camera-work. DP Harry Savides has treated the negative to give the scenes a dull, mono-chrome look, and interior scenes in particular look murky and uninteresting.

The movie seems like a step backward from THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. That movie was far from perfect, but it did capture my interest and the cutting observations of human frailty were tempered by something like human warmth. By contrast, MARGOT feels misanthropic. And the little flaws that marred SQUID are magnified in MARGOT. The final scene is a case in point. Baumbach doesn't seem to be able to restrain himself from big dramatic flourishes at the end of his films. They feel stagey and heavy-handed.

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING played Telluride and Toronto 2007. It opened in the US last year and is currently on release in Australia. It opens in the UK on February 29th and in Belgium and the Netherlands in March. It opens in Denmark on April 11th and in Norway on May 9th. It opens in Spain on June 6th. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is also available on Region 1 DVD.

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