Margot at the Wedding might be a hard pill for some to swallow, for others it will be exactly the type of medicine they are looking for. People expecting and wanting a comedy are going to be sorely disappointed. That isn’t to say we don’t laugh at things that happen, but set ups and punch lines aren’t given. We laugh at the characters, not because they’re embarrassing, but because they act so realistically to the events that surround them. If you take Ingmar Bergman and add a dollop of John Cassavettes you get Noah Baumbach’s newest creation which leaves the overt quirk of The Life Aquatic and the diminishing quirk of The Squid and the Whale behind for something sharper and more bare bones. It’s not so much a character study, though the character at the center of it all, Margot, could certainly use a good slap across the face, but a study of how Margot infects the lives of the people around her. Nicole Kidman is slyly manipulative as Margot, slowly creeping in for the kill, and before the characters’ know it they are buying into her innuendo and hearsay. But she doesn’t play it as evil. Margot is an insecure woman who feeds off those around her. This is the type of role I love to see Kidman tackle. Her persona is a complicated one and when she dives into more Hollywood roles those complex traits become watered down and she becomes a very small presence. In this film she’s as brilliant as any of the greats.
The occasion bringing her into the story is her sister Pauline’s wedding. I’m so happy to see Jeniffer Jason Leigh on the screen again. She’s one of those overlooked actresses who I love and who plays Pauline at once with a now knowing eye about her sister’s ways, but also as someone who wants to see the good in everyone, even her fiancee Malcolm, whose schlubbiness could only be authenticated by Jack Black. We get the idea that the two sisters parted on ill terms and are trying to make up for lost time. Saying desperately that they love each other, and wanting to believe it as they say it. When Pauline talks you understand she means it, she wants it. But what Margot wants it ultimately more complicated. You see, it’s difficult for her to not have something under her thumb. So whether she truly thinks Malcolm is right for her or not isn’t the point. Margot wants to control her sister’s life as she has in the past when we also learn that perhaps she talked Pauline away from another suitor. But Pauline knows that Margot is sick. Margot knows Margot is sick, but in the end that perhaps is an act. She would trade sympathy for love any day.