09 April 2008

Margot at the Wedding

I was not a fan of The Squid and the Whale. Though looking back at my review, I think I explained quite well why I thought it was not a particularly good movie, what has actually stayed with me is a feeling that, ok, maybe it was well done, but it was so unpleasant and unsympathetic that it just didn't work for me. I went in to Margot at the Wedding expecting it to be similar, but in fact, was pleasantly surprised - it's a damn good movie. It's as though Noah Baumbach had listened to all of my problems with the first one and said, "ok, let's compromise. I still want it to be about horrifically self-absorbed people and the harm they do to one another, but I can humanize them a bit, maybe add some humor to it. Would that work?" Yessir. We've got a deal.

Margot at the Wedding continues the trend of watching parents messing up their kids (and siblings, and really anyone else who crosses their path), but features a broader palette of characters, which makes a big difference. Although Nicole Kidman is a monster, you actually find yourself sympathizing with her, partly because she's portrayed in a variety of situations that let you, occasionally, glimpse her better side. Because the movie includes other perspectives, it's less insistently focused on her narcissism, which has the strange feature of making you feel less compelled to imagine her perspective, and thus actually inspires you to do it. Funny, that.

Meanwhile, there's also a lot of humor in the movie, and not only of the bitter, dark variety. While it's ultimately a pretty depressing movie, it feels less like an onslaught of misery and more like a balanced, realistic account, albeit of some more-messed-up-than-usual people. 

The most fascinating aspect of the film, to me, was the relationship between Jack Black and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who were both phenomenal. Jack Black in particular really shined as a tragi-comic figure. Although my friend Ruchama said that she just couldn't take him seriously, I thought his character was quite ingenious - though I also have a soft spot for characters that one simultaneously finds tragic and amusing. There's something really interesting to me about characters that you feel sorry for, but also can't help but laugh at, though you almost feel guilty about doing so. There's an amazing scene where he's sobbing pitifully on the phone, and while his pain is quite heartrending, you're also chuckling at his incoherent, tear-soaked rambling. 

Secondly, the portrayal of their relationship is really well done.  The sub-plot of their trials and tribulations is a really interesting exploration of relationships, forgiveness, love, etc. Quite moving. There's this great scene where they're going to bed, Jack Black is in his underwear and Jennifer Jason Leigh is in pyjamas, the unbuttoned top giving you an occasional flash of her breasts, and the casual intimacy of the moment is beautifully rendered. Much more compelling, incidentally, than a later scene of Nicole Kidman masturbating, which seems kind of gratuitous (not that I'm _really_ complaining...). Actually, this is another nice aspect of the film - the way it manages to show supposedly risque things like breasts and marijuana, but integrate them casually into the daily life of the characters in a way that feels quite genuine rather than sensational.

A good movie, worth checking out.

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