Monday, June 30, 2008

Margot at the Wedding

Dysfunctional people are often funny. Take The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), for instance. Take many of Woody Allen's films. Take the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, and screwball comedies in general. But there are limits. Margot at the Wedding (2007) passes them. This film about two disaffected sisters who reunite for a wedding has moments of humor, but it also has moments of misery, abuse, sadness, and despair. In Steve Zissou and the Life Acquatic (2004), writer and director Noah Baumbach offered a zany and unpredictable film full of whimsy, silliness, and emotional insight. There's silliness in Margot at the Wedding, but not of the sort that makes you laugh, particularly.

Margot (Nicole Kidman) is a successful writer in the middle of a break-up with her husband. She travels with her son to attend her sister Pauline's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding. Pauline is neurotic and into self-help books and retreats. Margot is a narcissist of the extreme order—the embodiment of narcissistic personality disorder. She is constantly criticizing, finding fault. Every child she sees she is sure is afflicted with autism. She can't take any criticism herself. She's having an affair with another writer, whom she alternately loves and hates. She is excessive in her love for her son, yet she says cruel and abusive things to him without hesitation.

In a lot of films like this, the various characters ultimately come to some sort of rapprochement. Not here. Things just continue roiling along, and you get the impression that neuroses and discontent and intrusions into the lives of others have been the pattern for Margot since the beginning.

Margot at the Wedding is similar to Woody Allen's Hannah and her Sisters (1986). But Allen's film does offer a lot of sustained humor. This one offers a few flashes here and there, but not much more. Jack Black as the overgrown teenager Malcolm whom Pauline is going to marry is effective in his part, though you sense that he is playing himself (or his slovenly rock-and-roll persona) more than anything else. The scenes in which he attempts to chop down a tree beloved by Margot and her family is briefly funny. Allen's film made you like his characters. I would prefer to stay far away from the characters in Margot.

I mourn for Margot's son, who surely will grow up warped and demented as a result of his experiences with his mother and her family. He'll likely carry forward the family tradition of neuroses and general self-centered misery.

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