Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Yes Margot, I was just talking about you

Imagine Bette Davis in All About Eve, the devastating cutting wit, the constant need to be the center of attention in every situation. Got it? Now drain Bette of her regal bearing, her empathy, her self-confidence and up the venom quotient 100%. You've got Nicole Kidman's Margot in Margot at the Wedding.

Noah Baumabch's (The Squid and the Whale, Kicking and Screaming) latest feature is his most aggressively edited to date. Chugging along at a brisk hour and a half run time, scenes cut from one to the next barely giving the audience recover from one blistering emotional assault to the next. Its a nice instance of style serving content as the movie feels like a Margot insult; quick but packing enormous bite. The story features Margot, a successful short story writer visiting her estranged sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh-solid as always) on the eve of her engagement to a good natured but immature loser (Jack Black unusually subdued). "This is the kind of guy we rejected in high school" says Margot of Black. Margot visits with all sorts of baggage, not the least f which being her son (Zane Paris) who at her best she barely respects all the while keeping him at arms length. Margot's not much of a mother. Margot is in fact not much of a good anything; wife, sister, neighbour, adulteress, friend, its all a mess. Incredibly self-possessed and incapable of decent social behavior for anything more than a second or two. Margot's mantra seems to be "Were you just talking about me?" She's impossible to like.

Which is of course why I love her. The film may not work for people unfamiliar with Baumbach's typically acidic tone and less than huggable characters. But if one is willing to get their hands dirty there's lots of laughs to be found in Margot. The movie has two impeccable strengths going for it. First is Baumabch's script, which though talky, never falls into the trap of having characters say exactly what they mean. Meaning has to be inferred more by action and what goes unsaid and Margot has plenty of compelling bits at both ends of the spectrum. The film's other asset is Kidman who lords over the proceedings with inescapable presence. Its her best work in years and in playing such a flawed, human character she sheds the calculating, unapproachable, ice-queen veneer she's been slowly creating for herself (something The Golden Compass will not help I'm afraid). While all the performances yield solid, naturalistic results (Black hardly ever dips into his comedic bag of tricks and its quite refreshing), Kidman is absolutely the main attraction. Probably my favorite female performance all year. Or at least that's what I would've said until last night.

1 comment:

Little Earl said...

I just saw this a couple of days ago and, yeah, even though almost every character was completely unlikeable, it was still an enjoyable movie somehow - maybe because all the characters at least seemed believable. It got really mixed reviews but after The Squid and the Whale I knew it at least would be worth my time. I don't think it's going to have any legs at the box office, but it'll be an interesting movie years from now in the same way hit-or-miss Woody Allen movies have become interesting. But you kind of have to wonder: how many movies can a director make about shallow East Coast intellectuals before he just runs out of new observations?