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I got back from the screening for Margot at the Wedding about six hours ago, and I’m still recovering from my experience.

The movie is endlessly fascinating, every character doing what the character should be doing as he or she is defined. The story and camera relentlessly force us to stick by the characters’ sides no matter how cruel, pathetic, or hurt they end up acting. This movie will, without a doubt, end up on my top-ten list this year, and I would love to see this get some nods at the Academy Awards in February.

Unfortunately, this challenging, difficult movie will most probably not do well at the box office (it’s in a limited release), and it’s been getting mixed reviews from critics (Margot is at 57% at Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing). To make matters worse, at the screening that I attended, people who obviously didn’t know what to expect walked out in droves (at one point, about 30 people at once). I’ve never seen such a walk-out. Even the ones who stayed until the end complained about having to watch the whole movie: it sounded like everyone hated it. The other press guy I was with liked it but just not as much as The Squid and the Whale, director Noah Baumbach’s previous effort.

So, in the end, I feel like I’m the only one in love with this movie. But why? What’s so irresistible about Margot? What I really love about… well, I think there’s just so much to love about Margot!

The title character is played by Nicole Kidman, performing in a role she was born to play. She speaks softly, but a thorn is hidden in each sentence — not necessarily to attack, but ready in case it needs to do so. If Margot was played by a less attractive actress, I think the audience would be less likely to watch her do her thing on the screen. However, a pale Kidman with dark brown hair, like a picture frame around her face, and a bright pink hat stands out among an otherwise dull (but not boring) color scheme: she looks as if she could walk right off the screen if she chose.

The 25-words-or-less logline: Margot is coming to town to her sister Pauline’s (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding. Margot doesn’t care much for Malcolm (Jack Black), Pauline’s fiancé, and tensions rise.

Out of something so simple, Baumbach fashions a magnificent portrait of damaged smart-enough people who, old enough as they are, still find a way to screw up. And what’s disturbing is how I saw a bit of myself and my relatives in each of those characters.

Speaking of disturbing, if I had to compare this to another Baumbach outing, it would no doubt be Squid. (Okay, not disturbing, but unsettling.) There are enough awkward and unusual things happening in Squid to make it seem over-the-top, but these occurrences give the movie it’s edge, showing how damaging divorce is for these two particular teens as they lash out in a primal manner and how vicious we can all (as parents, children, friends of a family, etc.) act under such heavy pressure.

Ditto regarding Margot, which features a character masturbating, another admitting to his mother that he did so the night before, another competing with her sister over who slept with more people when they were younger, and other uncomfortable instances.

Based on the movie’s critical reception and tonight’s walk-out, people seem to misunderstand Margot and what it has to offer. Film critic James Berardinelli wrote in his two-star review of the movie:

Will the wedding go off without a hitch? Will Pauline and Margot allow old wounds to heal or will they pick at the scabs? And will the tree survive the movie? The problem with Margot at the Wedding is that these questions are all that matter.

But these questions don’t matter at all! From a sociological stand-point, I’m interested alone just watching these people act out their routine over the course of a few days, and anything aside from that (the “plot”) is just there to dress-up the scene.

In addition, you could almost hear how uncomfortable people were during the female masturbation scene. (The audience’s awkwardness, now that I think about it, reminds me of the scene in Squid when Jeff Daniels’ character takes his older son and his son’s girlfriend to see Blue Velvet). The audience isn’t alone, because mainstream audiences still aren’t ready for such frankness concerning sex. But this alone won’t prevent audiences used to movies like I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry from enjoying the movie since they won’t be able to see past the superficial actions happening on-screen, which will seem like a lot of random talking to them. For anyone who can appreciate an art film, though, he or she will see how exhilarating it is to fill in the history of, and hidden conflicts between, these characters.

I didn’t understand why, but even when I saw just the poster (three figures on a white background) and trailer for Margot, I fell in love. Even in scenes of bright daylight, the movie feels like it’s lacking color (the only bit of which is Margot’s aforementioned bright-pink hat). Some may see this as a flaw in the film, but, after thinking about why I loved the minimalist poster and trailer so much, I like how the watered-down color scheme relates to how the characters seem to just suck the life from each other, each one trying to top the other by seeing who stops loving who first.

You may ask, Does all this mean that the movie is bleak? Just because the movie isn’t bright and sunny doesn’t make it bleak. (Same for No Country for Old Men — practically everyone labels it as “bleak,” but I think it’s hilarious!) However, due to some of the subject matter, I do think many will find Margot “depressing” (as it shows humans at their worst), and I don’t think particular demographics and audiences are ready for such honesty about how low hurt humans will go to damage one another.

So does the movie give any hope? Well, it really isn’t a matter of a general sense of hope, like the ending of Children of Men, which, even though it seems clear in its hopeful conclusion, is very ambiguous, since it ends in such a way that we don’t have a clear enough picture of what will happen in the future. Margot, even though it’s more focused about hope/despair for these individual characters, is pretty clear about where these characters are headed.

But in that case, is the movie too fatalistic? I don’t believe so. The movie isn’t so heavily built on a sense of predetermination that the storylines and their outcomes feel contrived. We just reach the conclusion at the end of the movie that these characters aren’t changing, and their cycles of unhappiness will probably continue until they get a clue.

It’s sad, yes, but it’s also true, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching real people on the screen, actual relatives of mine, people I know. Once in a while, a movie will come along that just asks us to watch characters be themselves, and, as uncommon as they are, not even all such films succeed. Margot is one of those great gems and should be righteously honored. As Best Picture? It’s not my choice, but I wouldn’t be disappointed if it won.


One Comment

  1. I loved this film so much, Jennifer Jason Leigh was so good!
    Noah Baumbach couldn’t have done it any better.
    It was unpleasant, but good unpleasant, like Before The Devil Knows You’re dead, it hooks you, and pulls you in without ever letting go, and that’s what a film should do.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Margot at the Wedding – Of the three films that I’ve seen from Noah Baumbach, this is his most mature. Margot is cringe-inducing, eye-opening, and insightful, always fascinating and never boring. Not a lot of critics are crazy about it, but I think it will stand the test of time and will emerge as a forgotten gem later on. […]

  2. By An Overlooked Gem « Joey’s Film Blog on 06 Jan 2008 at 4:56 pm

    […] Jason Leigh, who I don’t think has received enough credit for her great performance in this movie, much less her entire […]

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