Directed by Noah Baumbach
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 92 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: February 19, 2008
Review Date: February 14, 2008
Dysfunctional relationships abound in Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding, and it makes for a most unsettling viewing experience. Ostensibly a comedy-drama with two sisters attempting to mend a tear in their relationship, the comedy is decidedly on the sour side, and the drama never rises above the mundane. The film is rescued by an outstanding cast doing their all to makes these confused characters come alive, but in the end, the result just isn’t especially flavorful or memorable.
Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh play sisters Margot and Pauline, estranged for awhile but reunited on the weekend of Pauline’s wedding to nebbishy artist Malcolm (Jack Black). Margot is fleeing Manhattan primarily to escape a disconcerting marriage to Jim (John Turturro) and potentially to run away with an author (Ciaran Hinds) who lives nearby. Of course, she has her son Claude (Zane Pais) with her and needs to prepare him for the break-up of the marriage before moving on with her lover. So the weekend is filled with revelations between all the characters, setbacks and embarrassments, all leading up to the hoped-for nuptials.
Kidman’s Margot is so demanding, so coruscatingly pointed in her critiques of others that she’s unpleasant to be around for very long. Though there is a bond between the sisters that resurfaces during this volatile weekend, Leigh’s Pauline is constantly under the gun of her older sister’s expectations and opinions. Both actresses acquit themselves magnificently in these predator and victim characters (sadly, neither seems aware of her own role in this dysfunctional sibling relationship). Jack Black adds whatever lighthearted spirit the film has as the somewhat bumbling, quick-tempered Malcolm. And he never pushes for effects which works well within the saturnine shenanigans of the weekend. Obvious slapstick would be completely out of place here, but his small moments of rage (with a croquet mallet, with a bush, while attempting to cut down a tree) work beautifully within the natural range of the character.
Writer-director Noah Baumbach returns to dip his gourd in the unhappy family well for a second time after scoring a bull’s eye with The Squid and the Whale. Though he’s created some new and interesting characters, the dour tone, the film’s oppressive look (more about this in the video quality section), and a rambling storyline which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere and only seems to emphasize the negative eventually wears out its welcome. By the end, we’ve had some unpleasant, feel-bad experiences with nothing really accomplished for the characters. The journey seems pointless.
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is reproduced here anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. To better set the morose mood of the piece, a thin veil of green haze has been settled on the entire film thus reducing depths of blacks, desaturating colors in the process, and making shadows murky and unappealing. The image is indeed sharp and free of any damage, but one look at the filmed scenes in the bonus interview without the heavy processing (where everything is bright, clear, and beautiful) lets one see the director and cinematographer’s intentions to cast a pall over the film’s image. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
Though the audio track is Dolby Digital 5.1, the surrounds are for all intents and purposes silent. There’s no score, so there is no chance of music being filtered into the rears. It’s a movie of words which do certainly come through loud and clear in the center channel.
“A Conversation with Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh” is just that, a 12 ¾-minute video interview with the writer-director of the film and the co-star (who are married to one another in real life). They express great admiration for star Nicole Kidman and also have nothing but praise for one another’s gifts and for each other’s contributions to the finished film. (Ironically, there is none of that genuine admiration and support ever mentioned between any of the characters in the finished film. When praise is given there, it‘s veiled in secrecy and lies.) It’s presented in full frame.
Two theatrical trailers for Margot at the Wedding are offered separately, both in nonanamorphic letterbox. The first runs 2½ minutes and features the more amusing scenes from the movie wrongly misdirecting a potential audience into thinking the film is a comedy. The second runs 1½ minutes and is more honest about the film’s content by quoting Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers’ review of the movie.
The disc offers previews of There Will Be Blood and The Kite Runner.
Margot at the Wedding shreds a family’s loyalty and devotion over one long weekend making for an erratic and somewhat unsatisfying comedy-drama with nevertheless lots of excellent performances on display.