Monday, January 14, 2008

Margot at the Wedding

Noah Baumbach’s third feature length film, Margot at the Wedding marks his coming of age as a director. While The Squid and the Whale (2005) is a wildly charismatic, well written film, Margot at the Wedding exhibits remarkable restraint where The Squid and the Whale chooses not to. The cornerstone metaphor of The Squid and the Whale, a sculpture at the American Museum of Natural History, is very effective, but it is also intrusive and divisive. The central metaphor in Margot at the Wedding, if there is one, is the dying tree in the backyard of Margot’s sister’s house. What that tree means, however, is no more ambiguous as the squid fighting the whale, only it isn't spelled out.

In The Squid and the Whale, young Frank lays his mothers garments out on the bed as a direct reference to a similar scene Louis Malle’s oedipal tale Murmur of the Heart (1971). The Squid and the Whale explores themes of a mother’s sexuality as seen through her son’s eyes, and these themes resurface in Margot at the Wedding. However, Baumbach resist the temptation to make clever allusions, and instead allows the film to be its own, completely self-contained world. He spares no details of the thousands of tiny heartbreaks suffered within a family, and the deep seated narcissism and cruelty that are often shrouded in loving concern. Nicole Kidman delivers a shrewd performance that is difficult to watch, at times, because it seems so accurate. Jack Black, who plays Margot’s sister’s fiancé, sticks out of the cast like a sore thumb as if he was imported from another movie. I am not prepared to say that they should have found someone else for the role—I think that he served the purpose of comic relief and added texture to a gray film. However, rather than being cast against type, it seems more like the role was tailored to accommodate his type.

Margot at the Wedding is patient, subtle and dismantles you quietly as you watch it. This might be a grandiose comparison, but aspects of the film remind me of Bergman’s Persona (1966) and even Through a Glass Darkly (1961), if they were stripped of their paranoid and metaphysical concerns. They share in common a woman who becomes distorted by the seaside. She remains isolated amongst people, or perhaps becomes more isolate because she is amongst people.
I eagerly await Baumbach’s next film.


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