Margot at the Wedding

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Writer/director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale)

goes Woody Allen one better with this dysfunctional-family dramedy that manages

to be psychologically astute as well as wickedly funny. Margot (Nicole Kidman)

and Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are estranged sisters reunited on the

occasion of Pauline’s marriage at their childhood home somewhere in New England. (Jack Black plays the bridegroom as a rotund

little ball of insecurity.) The needy, scattered Pauline doesn’t have her life

together, but Margot is a real piece of work, lashing out at her sister, her

brother-in-law-to-be, and even Pauline’s redneck neighbors. The story

occasionally embraces cliché and stretches credulity, but Baumbach’s incisive writing

and direction tease out the character notes that underlie Margot’s cruelty,

adding depth to a woman who becomes less and less sympathetic, spinning her

wheels desperately in an effort to find traction in the failings of those

around her. You feel for the gawky but sweet son she keeps in tow (even as she

cuckolds his father), but not for Margot herself — it’s a rare American film

that revolves around such an unlikable character. Evocative cinematography — no

shadows, only shades of gray — by Harris Savides rounds out a unique and unsettling

package. B+

This review originally appeared in the White Plains Times.

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