I’d never call myself a Noah Baumbach fan but his films always impress me. Margot at the Wedding seems to have faded into the shadows of Greenberg, Frances Ha and his other recent works but it’s easily one of his most accomplished efforts. The film showcases Baumbach’s gift for writing fuck-ups and oddballs in a deeply humane and emotional way. The film is laser focused and mainly consists of people talking in rooms but, as with all of Baumbach’s work, he uses his limited canvas to find the big things in the little ones. The film is about fractured relationships and crumbling family values as much as it is a farce about a misjudged wedding weekend. Along the way Baumbach wrings unexpected performances out of his cast, notably Nicole Kidman and Jack Black who both deliver some of their most nuanced and complex work to date.
Kidman is known for her heavyweight abilities and has enjoyed a leading-lady career that can comfortably zig-zag from big to small scale at any given time but Black’s track record is much murkier. His heightened acting style and mad tinge has often kept him in high-concept comedies or slightly off-kilter blockbuster fare and rarely is he given the chance to add texture to a character rooted in reality. His work in Margot at the Wedding was the film’s true revelation for me. He taps into the sadder side of his physicality and mannerisms and uses it to his advantage. I found his character to be charming, believable and tragic all at the same time. I realised that hes a much better actor than many give him credit for. This film, along with Bernie, released five years later, should really set an example for him moving forward. Kidman too seems to thrive on Baumbach’s words and her glamorous celebrity image is jettisoned in favour of more dowdy, earthy shades. For anyone who, like me, enjoys films that make their beautiful stars look normal, Margot at the Wedding totally delivers.
The movie looks great too. Shot by the legendary Harris Savides, there is an unexpected murkiness to the image. It almost looks like you’re watching the film through a fish-tank full of dirty water – but it’s stunning! It reaches almost dogme levels of grungy naturalism and, as is often the case with Savides’ work, manages to be beautiful while trying for the complete opposite.
In time Margot at the Wedding might go down as being my favourite Noah Baumbach movie. I’m surprised how little it has been championed in the eight years since it’s release, especially considering the enlightening work from all of the star power involved and how Baumbach seems to have ascended to indie demigod over the past few years. It’s a wonderful little film, intimately focused with a savage comedy bite. I liked it a lot.