' Cinema Romantico: Margot at the Wedding

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Margot at the Wedding

There is a moment when Margot (Nicole Kidman) has received a present from her husband (John Turturro). She starts to unwrap it, slowly, delicately, refusing to rip right into it, and her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) admonishes her. The moment itself isn't really important in the grand-scheme of things but that's exactly what makes it so imporant. The film, even at its smallest moments, pays such close attention to character it's somewhat of a miracle.

"Margot at the Wedding" was written and directed by Noah Baumbach who also pulled double duty on "The Squid and the Whale" (a Cinema Romantico Top 5 Movie of the Year two years ago) and 1995's "Kicking and Screaming" which has gained legendary status among a group of my friends. ("Go away, cookie man.") This movie doesn't really differ from those two in regard to character and dialogue that, quite frankly, gets no better cinematically. Baumbach can write. I'm not talking structure nor closed endings (if you don't like open endings, stay away). I'm talking the way people speak to one another. Lovers of dialogue, go forth and buy a ticket. You'll get lost in the words and the rhythm of them.

At the start Margot and her son Claude are returning to her childhood home for Pauline's wedding. Her son thinks Pauline stopped talking to Margot. Margot says this is incorrect. "No, I stopped talking to her. But I'm over it." Once they've arrived the two sisters fall into what must be familiar patterns. Margot sees the old tree and instantly comments, "You took the swing down." Pauline deflects incessant criticism by referencing the past. And then there is Margot's fiance Malcom (Jack Black) who is a genius but unemployed, aside from being a "letter writer". Notice how he's always getting lost in his own thoughts. At one point he mentions how he's started forgetting names, such as the bass player for Motley Crue. The camera stays with him as he stares straight ahead. Finally, he says, "Mick Mars.

Margot, of course, doesn't think Malcolm is suitable for her sister. But Margot has her own relationship problems. Things are clearly rocky with her husband and she's having an affair with Dick (Ciaran Hinds), the man whose novel she's helping turn into a screenplay.

Yes, Margot's a writer, and I think that's fairly easy to see. Listen to the way she works things through out loud, as if doing so to sift through it for material. Pauline compliments her on the story she wrote about their mother. "It wasn't about mom," says Margot. Of course, it was. That's what writers say in those situations. She's constantly taking notes, whether literally or in her head. It's no wonder she swills white wine.

Redeeming value. Empathy. Bitching. Those are words that no doubt will be raised in discussions regarding the characters of this film. I myself am fortunate enough to have a great family. No complaints of any kind. But there are many families that are not like mine. Families that love each other in spite of the fact there may not be much to love about any of them. Family members without a lot of redeeming value that don't generate much empathy and bitch. This is a perfect illustration of one of those families.

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