Monday, October 06, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Margot at the Wedding

Margot at the Wedding (2007) 6/10
After a long period of estrangement, Margot (Nicole Kidman) arrives at the famiy home to attend her sister Pauline's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) wedding to Malcolm (Jack Black).

A character study, particularly a study of an unpleasant character, is a tricky thing. A happy ending can betray whatever truth the character has revealed, an unhappy ending can be melodramatic and artificial, while a non-ending is (though trendy) potentially unsatsifying.

Margot at the Wedding reminds me of Half Nelson, an understated study of a drug addict that kind of goes for non-ending. The thing is, in Half Nelson, there's a level of character movement, and also some conscious choices about non-movement, that make us feel we went somewhere.

There's a lot that's very powerful about Margot at the Wedding, but ultimately, it goes nowhere.

Margot is a woman of almost astonishing meanness. She is a bad mother to thirteenish Claude (Zane Paris), to whom she blurts every inappropriate thing you wished mothers would never say. She is comfortable calling her son a "jerk" and an "asshole," telling him how bad he looks, whining to him about how he treats her, and then pushing him away when he seeks forgiveness.

Late in the movie, Pauline suggests that Margot has Borderline Personality Disorder, which actually makes sense, because Margot is really so incomprehensibly awful.

As the family spends time together, they relax into a conversational style that is unique and odd. This is right; families have that style. They sound like themselves and outsiders don't understand. The sisters crack up hysterically over something that seems unfunny. They leave things unexplained. At one point they say "Poor Becky" in unison about their sister. We never learn why.

And that's okay; a movie can have these unanswered questions, these gaps. Because it's a family portrait, and families, even over-analytical ones like this one, don't explain themselves to themselves. They don't say who Becky is or why it's sad about her.

But there's supposed to be a payoff. A movement. When the film ends, we're supposed to know that something shifted, or that there was meaning to it not shifting. And in the end of Margot at the Wedding, I basically felt like an unpleasant person was staying unpleasant, and any shift was just her lying to herself about her functionality like she always does.

The acting all-around is very good, very believable and gentle, although really, they simply must stop casting Kidman as an American; sooner or later her accent always slips. Was there no excellent American actress for the role? It's stupid.

(Cross-post at the Blog)