Monday, November 19, 2007

Movies: Margot at the Wedding

Despite having an over-written script executed by surprisingly unskilled actors, Margot at the Wedding manages to still be a very watchable movie, even a pleasant experience (despite the unpleasantness of most of the characters); this is mostly thanks to excellent cinematography, and also the performances of child actors Zane Pais and Flora Cross, who create the only believable portrayals of emotion in the film.

Emotion is really the key here; the plot is (supposedly) fraught with it—it's an emotional family drama of the talky, late-Woody Allen kind (think Interiors), tinged with a bit of indie weirdness added by the creepy neighbors in the house next door. Margot (an icy, high-strung Nicole Kidman, who channels a combination of Mia Farrow (shrinking) and young Diane Keaton (gnawing)) takes her son Claude out to her sister Pauline's house (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The sisters are estranged and haven't spoken for a year, but Pauline is about to marry Malcolm (Jack Black, horribly misplaced in this completely non-farcical drama), and Margot and her son are there for the wedding. Equally importantly, Margot's husband (John Turturro) and her other son (whom we never meet) are not there. As the plot unfolds, we find out that Margot has been having an affair for some time with a local writer (which will, over the course of the film, sour), and that Malcolm once shared a kiss with that local writer's teenage daughter. More disturbing things will happen with the neighbors (they will roast a whole pig, naked (the neighbors, not the pig), and the neighbor boy will attack Claude's neck with his teeth in the tall grass). These things will not be explored; they will just happen.

What will be "explored" are the feelings of the key characters. People will yell, and laugh, and (this is the unfortunate part) pretend to cry. Let's be honest. Can Jack Black cry? I'm sure that Jack Black, the man, has experienced sad things in his life, and has cried. However, on screen, his attempt at crying reads like his attempt to hide his own laughter at himself attempting to cry. I would expect more from Leigh and even more from Kidman, but no; their alligator tears are just as dry, and they switch from scrunched toddler-tantrum face and high pitched whining to straight face and perfectly-formed eloquent speech and back to the tantrum within in moments. Compounded with the fact that they are saying things that people just don't say (particularly in front of young people, which people just don't do—even with extremely precocious young people raised in Manhattan), this pretense renders it impossible for the audience to connect with the characters (the aforementioned Pais and Cross excepted, who are natural and wonderful and not pretentious at all).

At the end of the film, Margot is putting her son on a bus, and staying behind; there is a conversation between the two of them in which he asks her to come along and she refuses. As the bus starts to move, she appears to change her mind, and drops her jacket and then her purse on the ground, and runs after the bus, shouting "Wait!" until it stops. Then she gets in, and sits next to Claude, panting. The bus continues (onto Vermont and the hubby, we presume). But here is my question. How are we to believe that a woman as totally rigid and uptight as Margot would leave her coat and her purse in the middle of the sidewalk and go off to Vermont without a suitcase or even a tube of moisturizer? That's right: we aren't. And so it all goes. At least the film looks good.

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