At the end of writer/director Noah Baumbach's 2005 film The Squid and the Whale, I felt exhausted — but not in a bad way. That slice-of-life film focusing on a Brooklyn family in the midst of the parents' separation is at times depressing and hard to watch. At the end, however, there's a moment that feels redemptive and almost hopeful. Margot at the Wedding marks Baumbach's follow-up to Squid in the Whale and has extremely similar themes and characters with one key difference: there is no real redemption to this movie.
Nicole Kidman plays Margot, a Manhattan author and mother to a teenage boy named Claude (Zane Pais). Margot and Claude travel together to Margot's childhood home where her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) now lives and where she's about to marry the schlubby Malcolm (Jack Black). Once they're together again, the movie mostly centers on Margot and Pauline's relationship, Margot and Claude's relationship and Margot's strained relationship with her husband — and her relationship to men in general. That's basically it for plot, but there is still more to talk about so read more
Baumbach explores similar territory here as he does in Squid and the Whale, only this movie is way harder to enjoy. There's the selfish, hypocritical mother (Margot) who has a seemingly close relationship with her teenage son, though she often randomly slings insults his way. She and her sister examine their childhoods, their daddy issues, their sexual pasts, none of which is all that interesting for anyone else (audience included) to hear. The boy, attempting to navigate young adulthood and trying to grasp the rockiness of his parents' marriage, is an innocent. There are a few references to his sexual exploration, but nothing nearly so squirmy as what goes on in Baumbach's Squid.
Baumbach is clearly preoccupied with a few key topics in general: family dynamics at a turbulent juncture in the parents' marriage, and mother-son relationships (particularly when the mother is self-obsessed and rather heartless). In both films Baumbach also ridicules overeducated and snobbish — though not necessarily elite — members of New York society. These characters (both parents in Squid, Margot in Margot) are shown to be know-it-alls, deeply hypocritical and cold.
I patiently waited through the hour and a half with these characters, most of whom are either clueless (Malcolm), helpless (Pauline, Claude) or downright hateful (Margot), expecting some sort of golden ray of hope at the end. Just a glimmer would have done it, a speck of glitter stuck haphazardly to this story that is dreary despite there being no actual crisis. It really is simply an example of how bleak and pointless life is — even when nothing is really wrong.
Photos courtesy of Paramount Vantage