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Margot at the Wedding (2007)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/19/2008

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/19/2008

It can be difficult for the average filmgoer to understand how and why actors choose certain scripts. They often aren't paying attention to the story, but rather they are looking at the role. Will it allow them to play a great character and truly "act"? Is there unique dialogue and is it the type of role in which they can get lost? I have to assume that this is what was going through the cast's heads when they signed on to be in Margot at the Wedding, because it certainly wasn't for the story.

Author Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her 12-year old son, Claude (Zane Pais) take the train from Manhattan to Long Island (I think) to visit Margot's sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Pauline has invited them there for her wedding, and it's the first time that Margot meets Pauline's fiance, Malcolm (Jack Black). They travel to Margot and Pauline's childhood home, where Pauline and Malcolm now live with Pauline's daughter, Ingrid (Flora Cross). The two sisters haven't seen each other in a while, but their reunion is quite pleasant, and they are soon sharing secrets. Margot is thinking of leaving her husband, Jim (John Turturro). Pauline is convinced that Margot won't approve of Malcolm, who is an unemployed painter and musician, but she loves him. Pauline also reveals that she has been having a feud with their neighbors, who want them to cut down a tree. Despite the fact that the visit is supposed to be pleasant and include a wedding, Margot's hypercritical and neurotic mannerisms soon reveal themselves, and suddenly everyone is on edge.

If that synopsis gave any indication that Margot at the Wedding has a flowing narrative or a proper story, then I apologize, as I've given the film far too much credit. The film comes from writer/director Noah Baumbach, who previously brought us The Squid and the Whale. While that film was undeniably disjointed, it at least had some semblance of a story and a timeline. Margot at the Wedding feels as if it's simply made up of random scenes which show the characters doing random things. There is an idea to the film (Margot and Claude are visiting Pauline) and we learn some things about the characters, but outlining the events in the movie would take a protractor and graph paper. I can't imagine what it was like to edit this film, as 80% of the scenes could have occurred at anytime during the movie's running time.

As the film doesn't have a ton of story onto which we can cling, we are usually left with only the characters. However, that doesn't bode well either, as most of the characters in the movie are unlikable. Margot is a self-centered woman who is constantly diagnosing others with things like autism and Asberger's, even though she isn't a physician. She's both insecure and judgmental and shuns everyone. Pauline is somewhat more appealing, but she always seems to be in a haze. Unlike Margot, she cares for those around her, to the point that she doesn't have much of a personality. Claude (who is in desperate need of a haircut), who is clearly a victim of his mother's issues, is meant to be the audiences anchor into the film, but he is too much of a bystander. The only person in the movie that I found tolerable was Malcolm, who is simply another one of Jack Black's goofy characters, although he's clearing trying to be low-key.

Again, I can only imagine the actors relishing the chance to truly "act" as these characters. Kidman gets to play a bitchy woman and Leigh gets to play...well, her character was very similar to roles that she's played in the past. Black is the only one who doesn't take his character too seriously and his scenes are the only bright spots in this movie. Margot at the Wedding could be considered a "slice of life" film, but it plays more like the nightmare version of someone's life. It's like a Southern gothic taking place on Long Island with all of the bad personality traits that one can imagine. I'm sorry that Larry Clark hasn't made anything in a while, but I don't know while Noah Baumbach feels the need to fill that void with films like this. When the 12-year old told his mother that he had masturbated, I was ready to throw in the towel. Unfortunately, the towel had already left the room as it was fed up with this mess.

Margot at the Wedding makes everyone feel bad about themselves on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. For a (somewhat) low-budget indie, the DVD sports a nice transfer. The image is fairly sharp and clear, showing only a light sheen of grain. I've read that natural lighting was used as much as possible on the film, but the image is never overly dark. The exterior scenes are especially clear and the colors look good. I did note some mild video noise at times. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The exterior scenes have some noticeable stereo and surround sound effects from the nearby ocean. There is also some scenes in the forest which sport these effects. Otherwise, it's business as usual through the center channel.

The Margot at the Wedding DVD is as light on extras as the movie is on story. "A Conversation with Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh" (13 minutes) has the real-life married couple talking about the film. They discuss each of the actors and their respective characters. They then talk about the story and the character's relationships. These comments are accompanied by clips from the movie. I do like the fact that Baumbach talks about how he allowed Black to be funny. Trust me, this movie needed it. The other extras are two THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long