About a month ago I quit my job because I thought I should finally devote my time to writing. I've dabbled, owned my own magazine in the past, and always considered myself a writer, even when I wasn't publishing. Every job I've ever had, regardless of how mundane or perverse or ridiculous, I've managed to convince my bosses to let me pursue some kind of creative project in addition to my normal tasks. This is how I've come to be the creator of two in-house magazines and one very awesome illustrated sex terms dictionary.
So, this past weekend I really threw myself into my role as a freelance writer. I went out and reviewed a film and then sent that review to over 75 publications across North America. If I was a local writer in Omaha, Vermont, Chattanooga or Cincinnati right now, I'd have that sucker printed. Alas, I'm not. To be optimistic, it's only been two days since I blasted every independent paper with my work. It could happen still. But in the mean time, I thought, fuck it: I worked hard on this review. People should get to see it. And I should get to share it with anyone who cares to read it.
Margot at the Wedding Review
By Andrea Warner
In a family, we are all strangers bound by a familial debt to people who know our history; all that we were, all that we overcome, and every misstep in between. Margot at the Wedding is a beautiful and bittersweet exploration of these infinitely complex relationships we’re born into. What does it mean to be a mother or a sister? Can love take refuge in manipulation and cruelty and still be called love? Noah Baumbach, writer and director of Margot has a special knack for this particular type of story, pulling apart families full of wealthy, educated, privileged New Yorkers isolated by their own peculiar brand of dysfunction. This is not surprising, given the similar themes of his last triumph, the quietly explosive The Squid and the Whale.
Nicole Kidman is Margot, a self-absorbed and judgmental writer unraveling by her own hand as she takes solace in diagnosing those around her without ever stopping to appraise her own restless dissatisfaction and manic-depressive tendencies. Jennifer Jason Leigh is Pauline, Margot’s sister, a somewhat masochistic and needy free spirit who has asked Margot to return to their family home for her wedding, even though Pauline hasn’t spoken to Margot in years. The first meeting between the reunited sisters is heavy with tension and hope, as both Kidman and Leigh imbue their characters’ spirits with fiery purpose. Kidman’s long limbs, confident stature and natural stiffness fill the edges of Margot’s fragile superiority. Leigh’s wild mane of hair, alternately wounded and defiant eyes, and her ability to convey the physical impact of Margot’s harsh words with a defeated shoulder or defiant glare lend depth and layers to Pauline’s years in Margot’s shadow. Baumbach has provided incredibly rich material, and it pays off for Kidman and Leigh, who have never been better. Supporting roles from Jack Black and John Turturro as the partners of Pauline and Margot, respectively, add further traction to the tortured sisters, both still wrestling with the long shadow cast by their deceased abusive father.
The other star of this film is Zane Pais, who plays Claude, Margot’s 13-year-old son and confidant. He is a young man directly at the centre of the maelstrom Margot creates around her, seemingly without concern for how she pulls him up and down through the possible end of her marriage, or her casual betrayal of her sister’s confidences. After Margot’s own public undoing, she lashes out at Claude, lying that he’s a disappointment to Pauline, cruelly stripping away all layers of his self-confidence only to finish with “but you’re still handsome”. Claude, like Pauline, is entirely at the mercy of Margot’s destructive bile. But, also like Pauline, he is on the receiving end of her intense gestures of love and manipulation, her ability to make one feel special if you are the lucky recipient of her highly discriminate attentions. Pais is a wonderful young actor, and holds his own fiercely against Kidman. Claude and Margot’s relationship is unorthodox at best, but it’s a victory for Kidman that audiences will find it hard to doubt the sincerity of Margot’s love for her son underneath such painfully selfish actions.
This is a film of grand themes, and like any family gathering, it’s filled with humor, sadness, warmth and unresolved issues itching to surface. But it’s the small moments that are such wonders: the two sisters laughing hysterically like kids; Claude catching sight of his neighborhood tormentor being gently held in his mother’s arms. These observations seem subtle and unobtrusive, but quickly add up once one realizes they are impossible to shake. The dialogue, the backbone of this film, is fluid and reactive—the quick flare-ups between sisters with such a fractious relationship ring true, particularly to anyone who has ever had the push-pull intensity of two people so close, every soft spot becomes a target in the heat of the moment. Margot at the Wedding is a remarkable and intimate film that will occupy space in your mind long after you leave the theater.