One Thermonuclear Family Can Ruin Your Whole Day (Not to Mention Your Movie)

Noah Baumbach’s new film Margot at the Wedding opened Friday. I reviewed it after its premiere at the New York Film Festival and here’s what I said in Jewish Week.

[In my first piece on the NY Film Festival], I remarked on the prevalence of Jewish filmmakers with films about dysfunctional families in this year’s festival. As you might expect from Noah Baumbach, the writer-director of The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, his new film, is another comedy-drama of family gone thermonuclear. Margot (Nichole Kidman) is a successful writer who is estranged from her once-favorite sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Now that Pauline is marrying an overaged slacker (Jack Black), Margot decides to reassert herself in their relationship by turning up for the wedding with her 12-year-old son Claude (Zane Pais).

The result is predictably disastrous, with endless recriminations, replaying of old hurts and the accumulation of new ones. Baumbach is a not uninteresting writer, but he is too close to his material here (and in the previous film) to allow the film to breathe. His visual style is a stolid mix of cross-cutting close-ups and handheld point-of-view shots, and the film is disappointingly acted, with the honorable exceptions of John Turturro in a brief role as Margot’s husband, who she is abandoning, and Leigh who is nothing less than brilliant as Pauline, a wounded doe with some fight left in her.