One thing filmmaker Noah Baumbach can’t be accused of is pulling his punches. The Squid and the Whale mercilessly dissected the bitter, emotionally turbulent aftermath of a divorce and how it affected the couple’s two boys. His follow-up, Margot at the Wedding, is an equally lacerating and impeccably directed look at the fragile, complex relationship between two sisters.
Margot (Nicole Kidman) is a judgmental writer who’s just been invited to the nuptials of her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Malcolm (Jack Black). Bringing along her troubled son Claude (Zane Pais) but not her husband Jim (JohnTurturro), Margot immediately starts offering her opinions on Pauline’s intended, a slovenly, laidback sort who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life, and on Pauline’s “questionable” lifestyle choices, even as Margot continues her long-running affair with a local author (Ciarán Hinds). As the two sisters bicker, family secrets and resentments are exposed, Pauline begins to have second thoughts about her impending marriage, and Margot is forced to confront her own innermost demons.
Margot at the Wedding leavens this high drama with humor but never neglects the essential, powerful truths of how siblings can be each other’s worst enemies, even if they love each other. As the unhappy Margot, Kidman has rarely been this fine; a scene in which she verbally browbeats her son is startling in its honesty and impact. Leigh, who’s married to Baumbach, matches some of her best early work, while even the small parts, like that of Turturro as Margot's tolerant husband, leave an indelible impression.
Only Black’s performance is problematic, not because he’s bad—he’s believable and funny in the role—but because, contrasted to the rest of the cast members who burrow so deeply into their parts as to be unrecognizable, he’s still on some level playing the Jack Black persona. It’s not enough to mar the film, but it lends an unfortunate air of artificiality to this otherwise scrupulously authentic and powerful film.
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, Ciarán Hinds and Zane Pais
Director/Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Producer: Scott Rudin
Rating: R for sexual content and language
Running time: 92 min.
Release date: November 16, 2007 ltd.