MARGOT AT THE WEDDING
starring Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, John Turturro
written and directed by Noah Baumbach
starring Laura Linney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco
written and directed by Tamara Jenkins
by Walter Chaw As a big fan of Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Whale, I find myself jarred by his Rohmer-shrine Margot at the Wedding--not so much by its prickliness, but by how much that prickliness brings into harsh relief the clothed knife-blades in his previous work. It's easy to forget the young son in Squid telling his mother that she's ugly; I wonder if it isn't the lightness that tempers his first two pictures that's led Baumbach to craft a film full of the kind of stuff that elicits only the blackest laughter. There aren't any safety nets in Margot at the Wedding: though structurally (and a character's named "Pauline" to boot) it's Rohmer, in execution it's more than a bit Fassbinder, which is to say that it's a comedy of manners written with mean, acerbic precision, excoriating the educated bourgeois as intellectual leather freaks--sadomasochism as withering remarks and arch ripostes, a Dorothy Parker poem come to life. The Margot of the title, as played to alien, frostbitten perfection by Nicole Kidman, is a NEW YORKER contributor (and Jennifer Jason Leigh, as Margot's sister Pauline, played Mrs. Parker herself once upon a time) who's ventured out to wintry Long Island to talk her sister out of marrying schlub Malcolm (Jack Black). A tree growing onto the property of their bestial neighbours gives the film its trope and underclass antagonist, but Margot at the Wedding isn't a satire of the gulf that divides the intelligentsia from the unwashed so much it's as an observation that psychological pissing contests are pissing contests by any other name. The interludes in the picture are moments where Margot's boy Claude (Zane Pais) and eventually Margot herself peep on a couple engaged in mysterious carnal rites--sex of some sort, the dressing of a pig--that speaks to the idea that these hyper-educated people are divorced entire from their physical and native moral intelligence.