Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Jack Black, Ciaran Hinds, John Turturro, Zane Pais, Flora Cross
What would a family reunion be without that relative nobody can stand? Since times immemorial, families engage in longtime feuds, in the old ages they killed each other or started new countries, nowadays they move far away and don't phone or email you.
Such a case is Margot (Kidman) a short story writer whose ironic sense of humor, extremely honest remarks and snobbery make her terrifying to everyone she knows.
When the film begins she is on a train with her son Claude (Pais) heading to her sister Pauline's (Jason Leigh) wedding.
She has an agenda that includes making Pauline see what a mistake she's making and also go to a book signing she was asked to do; when her son innocently asks what's wrong with the wedding, she replies "would you marry someone you'd known for a year?".
When Margot meets Malcolm (Black), the groom, a part of her might've been extremely pleased to find that he is all she feared, and expected.
He has no paying job and uses his extreme intelligence to write letters to magazines he likes. Margot describes him as "not ugly" but very "unattractive" and it's perhaps a very good thing that the film lets us know so much what exactly its title character is thinking, so that we can compare it to how the people she describes actually act.
After the painfully honest "The Squid and the While" writer/director Maumbach returns with another incisive look at the dynamics of a family.
Baumbach relinquishes so much of his ideas to the creation of his characters that most of them escape tags. This makes them real and in the case of Margot as uncomfortable as her existing counterpart might be.
The film has a small debate on how much autobiography can you squeeze into artistic creations without losing all privacy and Margot encounters an obstacle when someone asks her about this. While it may or may not be a selfobservation about Baumbach himself, his keen eye for capturing little awkward details about the characters and the actors might serve as a key to know where Margot came from.
Very few performers would be willing to climb trees (both literallt and metaphorically) to the levels where Kidman takes Margot. She is ugly and cold in a sense that she seems as if she has stopped feeling altogether. The thing with Kidman is that while she could've made this obvious and given us cues about the moments where we should react to her ugliness, she chooses the road less travelled.
Margot says things without thinking them, before they leave her mouth and much worse afterwards. Kidman's ease at playing the part has us only later analyzing what a mess this woman is, because truth be told her offensive nature results entertaining, as long as she keeps away from us.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is a perfect compliment to this, she encourages Margo's behavior by continue to treat her in the same way we assume she always has. When she becomes victim to the brutal comments her sister emits, she doesn't remain indifferent, but it's possible that to her, even this destructive relationship is better than to have nothing at all.
Leigh's organic beauty makes a beautiful contrast to Kidman's more classic features, cause in a way both Margot and Pauline are complete opposites of each other, yet they try their best to look past this and only concentrate on their blood links.
Most films with lead characters like Margo work towards a catharsis of sorts that will inspire the change that utlimately will steer said character towards good and empathic behavior.
By the time this film ends, we haven't gotten even close to that. Then again why would we expect that from a film that never even told us why Margot and Pauline had become estranged in the first place.
Something in their behavior tells us that perhaps they're not even so sure of it anymore and have chosen to revel in the roles they've had since they were young. Too scared to aim for something different and too hurt to just forgive, it's no wonder that the sweetest moments in the film are when the sisters share secret stories that nobody else knows and then laugh and fall into each other's laps.
It is the one thing not even they can take away from each other.