Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Margot at the Wedding: A Movie Review

Abusive parenting. Inappropriate relationships. Absence of personal boundaries. Fractured personalities. Budding adolescence. Stunted personal growth.

Good foundations for an hour and a half exploration of the human condition, especially during a pivotal milestone such as a sibling’s impending nuptials. Even more so when a good chunk of the plot unfolds at the point of origin, her waterfront childhood abode. Unfortunately, these building blocks don’t coalesce into a believable movie going experience, making the storyline from this fascinating cast of characters a futile mishmash of gestalt.

Margot is in the midst of a life crisis, much of it her unconscious undoing over which she has very little control. To make matters worse, she wreaks havoc on the lives of those around her, some of them quite vulnerable and unable to defend against her insidious nature of attack. This has always been her modus operandi, but coupled with her personal dilemma, her gears seem to have switched into overdrive. Her sister’s unemployed fiancĂ© isn’t good enough for her. Her son is becoming too angular. She goads dinner companions to test their seemingly normal son for autism, and viciously scolds her estranged husband when he transports an injured animal from the highway to the hospital.

Margot is not a monster, just showing a pair of horns. Her exploits are more palatable because she frequently changes her mind, and Nicole Kidman’s attractive physical exterior helps explain why she still has an inner circle of love and support. But the sum of these parts isn’t enough to buy into the dichotomy of Margot at the crossroads. And with a cast this good, the movie ends up being a terrible waste of talent.

So much of Margot at the Wedding is extrapolating the meaning between the lines. If it didn’t emphasize the climax with pictures, the laborious ending would be a complete waste of time. Come to think of it, much of what happens here is an eh, who cares?

The real problem is the story doesn’t make much sense. Her tweenage son should be trying to distance himself from a mother slowly going off the deep end. Instead, he clings to her for dear life. Her sister feuds with neighbors over a tree she envisions in her wedding, then makes her fiancĂ© cut it down on the day before the ceremony. These essential plot movers are more like Claude screaming at the top of his lungs between moving trains than the signposts of life going bad. With a family this dysfunctional, I want to fully immerse myself in the angst and pathos. For much of the movie, Margot and her loony bin kept me at bay questioning the swirl of disaster from outside.

Go rent Margot at the Wedding for a touching debut from child actor Zane Pais. Great movie making from writer/director Noah Baumbach will have to wait for another time.