A review of “Margot at the Wedding” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for nudity and profanity

Run Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

 

 

Noah Baumbach (“The Squid and the Whale”) knows his way around an honest exploration of family and friendship and “Margot” serves to reinforce the point.

Baumbach begins by pairing Nicole Kidman and real-life wife Jennifer Jason Leigh as squabbling sisters on the edge. Margot (Kidman) is a neurotic Manhattan type-A who sucks up her pride and sets off for the wedding of thorny, estranged sister Pauline (Jason Leigh) with teenage son Claude (Zane Pais) in tow.

From the moment she sets foot on the family homestead Margot caustically passes judgment on the status quo, condemning Pauline’s intended (Jack Black as chubby underachiever Malcolm) and generally raking everyone over the coals.

The sisters’ complex relationship is a breeding ground for festering emotional sores both fresh and healing. Childhood stings, parental abuses, even the run-down state of the family home coalesce in a gale force of competition and dread.

Margot’s own marriage is troubled enough to restlessly rekindle a long-lost spark with next-door neighbor and fellow author Dick Koosman (Ciarán Hinds). Malcolm and the ubiquitous babysitter make mischief while the neighbors turn ugly over a bordering tree they want to cut down. The very tree that will shade Malcolm and Pauline’s wedding vows; bad omen if ever there was one!

Baumbach goes heavy on the discourse, thick on speechy sentiment that serves to annoy as much as impress. Hand-held camerawork is calculatedly jerky and lighting pure ambience; so “natural” (read: dark) I squinted through much of the run time.  

Kidman steps out of the box and nails her chaotic sib with savage wit and fuss. Black, Jason Leigh and newcomer Pais two-step in loosely choreographed sync; the results are peculiar and peculiarly pleasing.