Superman does good, you do well
I had a bit of a movie binge today, and watched Margot at the Wedding and rewatched Adpatation., along with starting up a complete viewing of 30 Rock in its entirety (inspired by my recent enjoyment of Mean Girls.
Margot at the Wedding is a less effort than director/writer Noah Baumbach's last movie, The Squid and the Whale, but that is not necessarily that negative a comment. Where The Squid and the Whale excelled was the effortless cohesion among the actors, director, and script. While Margot has its excellent elements (especially Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh, both of whom were fantastic...but more on that in a moment), it strikes some distractingly off-key notes at times.
While I am actually a Jack Black fan usually (shameful in most circles), I think he's miscast and hammy in here. In fact, his character seems to be written as a completely different character than Black is playing. The young actors also leave much to be desired. The boy (I just don't feel like looking up his name) has an expressive enough face, but little emotive ability besides that. John Tuturro's cameo is welcome and nuanced, and he plays excellently against Black and Kidman (it's Black's best scene in the film).
Now, on the subject of Nicole Kidman...I just wish the God she would choose projects as good as this all the time. She is absolutely amazing in this. Really wonderfully layered and playful work, and never over-the-top or flashy. No really, not even for a second. There's this wonderful moment in the final scene in which you think she is about to break down into the emotional catharsis of the film, but one comment from her son quickly snaps her back into her vicious, defensive self. It's a tricky moment that Kidman pulls off flawlessly. It's really a shame she's out of fashion, because she would have been a deserving nominee in February. In fact, I might go as far as to say that she deserved the trophy. But mind you, I'm a little under-viewed for 2007.
Down to the thematic stuff. Like his colleague Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach obviously has his influences, and wears them on his sleeve. The son of two film critics, it's easy to see how Baumbach ends up making "critic-friendly" films; but I think that it's unneceessary to discount him for this. Where Baumbach succeeds, and Anderson fails, however, is in the exploration of their particular cinematic and thematic fetishes. Margot is pretty clearly the same character that Laura Linney played in The Squid and the Whale, but while this sort of redundant character work bothers me in Anderson's films (look at the characters he writes for Anjelica Huston), Baumbach plays with real characters, not story-book cut-outs. The long family history that is hinted at in Margot seems to fit with the random details of The Squid and the Whale, so it's tempting (and perhaps correct) to assume that both films are somewhat autobiographical, and that Baumbach is exorcising some family demons with these films. But we all knew that.
Baumbach Cinematic Themes: the official list
incest (both oedipal and otherwise)
feminine teenage boys
strange attachment to emotionally-damaging parental figures
fathers/husbands screwing around with young girls
competing intellectual parents
mom's who fuck around with other men and deny any emotional intimacy to the rest of their family
siblings taking sides in divorce
Yeah, you get the picture. White people stuff.
Question for Baumbach fans: do you think Margot's son is the parallel to the older or younger son in Squid and the Whale? My bet is that this is a younger version of the older son. The behavior is similar but not quite exactly like the younger son, but it seems to be set before the couple's break-up. I mean, this is all presumptuous, but I think it's kind od a clear connection between the families in the two films.