Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding is the perfect example of why it’s never a good idea to get your hopes up. Having liked Baumbach’s Squid and the Whale (2005) a good bit and finding the trailer for Margot intriguing, this was the very first screener I headed for after the studios started inundating me with the “for your consideration” DVDs that come my way at the end of each year. I even arranged to have it projected on the big screen to see it to its best advantage. What a letdown. I can’t say it’s exactly a bad movie—except technically speaking, because the low-light interior cinematography redefines ugly murkiness—but it’s certainly not a good one.
One person who watched it with me remarked, “I don’t know when I’ve been so indifferent about a movie.” That kind of sums it up. In fact, I’d have more respect for Margot if I’d hated it. But apart from ennui, I can’t say it generated any emotional response from me whatsoever. I even tried it a second time to see if I’d missed something. If I had, I continued to do so. The movie has a good cast and occasional flashes of humor and insight, but nothing ever comes of it. The film simply meanders through a forced parade of dysfunctional—and generally unlikable—characters being dysfunctional for 90 minutes before running itself aground on a too-abrupt, faux upbeat ending that only serves to prove that the movie was never going anywhere to start with.
Baumbach’s concept is certainly promising. After a period of estrangement, Margot (Nicole Kidman) decides to go visit her sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), upon learning that said sibling is about to marry Malcolm (Jack Black). Well, at least that’s part of the story. Margot has also chosen this particular time because it dovetails with the promotion of her writings in the same town, and it coincides with her decision to leave her husband, Jim (John Turturro), and take up with Dick Koosman (Ciarán Hinds), who happens to live nearby. Margot is nothing if not self-absorbed, but that’s OK, because so is everyone else in the world of this movie.
And that, I think, is what’s wrong with it. The characters are neither sympathetic enough to like, nor are they witty enough to be particularly entertaining. What you’re left with is essentially a collection of drab snobs being mean to each other for no very good reason except that they’re, well, mean-spirited. The occasional flashes of humor—like Margot’s tree-climbing excursion and Jack Black’s bragging about punching people out—are not only found in the film’s trailer, they’re few and far between. I do give a nod to the fearlessness of Kidman’s performance—Hollywood glamour stuff this ain’t—but it’s at the service of a movie that isn’t worth the risk-taking. Rated R for sexual content and language.