Margot at the Wedding

Margot at the Wedding

****

In mainstream movies, most everybody is happy. Some people are one step away from happiness, and that step is usually finding a prince charming and living happily ever after.

In Hollywood, true satisfaction and contentment is the rule rather than the exception. Happiness is always achievable in less than 90 minutes.

In real life, there are a lot of confused, damaged, and just plain miserable people out there. Many can’t achieve what they want and never have the experiences that they dream about. Worse yet, plenty of people don’t even know what they want out of life or what they can do to make themselves happy.

Independent cinema doesn’t shy away from the depressing truths of life. There are plenty of little dramas hiding just outside of the mainstream that explore the lives and experiences of unhappy people.

“Margot at the Wedding” is definitely one of them.

It is the latest picture from enormously talented filmmaker Noah Baumbach. Baumbach became a critical darling in 2005 with his witty, insightful drama “The Squid and the Whale,” which chronicles the destructive effects that divorce has on a family of New York intellectuals in the 1980s.

In “Wedding,” Nicole Kidman plays Margot, a successful novelist who is great at writing about other people’s lives but bad at living her own. She is trying to find a way to get out of her failing marriage and she’s chafing under the responsibility of raising a teenage son.

The movie begins with Margot and her son heading to the wedding of Margot’s sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Margot doesn’t approve of Pauline’s unemployed fiancé Malcolm (Jack Black) – or much of anything she sees – and she lets everyone know about it. Lots of family drama ensues.

Actually, nothing much happens in the movie. The major events include a feud with the neighbors about a rotting tree and a bookstore literary discussion that turns nasty.

Noah Baumbach films aren’t about events, they’re about people. And there is no keener and more brutally honest observer of human behavior than Baumbach.

The characters in “Margot at the Wedding” are intelligent and funny, and also damaged and flawed. Their passive/aggressive and self-destructive behavior will make you cringe, and it will remind you of people that you know. And maybe it will remind you a little bit of yourself.

Baumbach really has a remarkable understanding of the way the human psyche works and how negative feelings manifest themselves in bad behavior. Like how Margot becomes nit-picky and overly critical of her family whenever she is feeling unsure about herself. Or how Malcolm flips out during a car ride because he mistakes some drunken joking around for serious insults.

Baumbach is one of the few filmmakers who understands how self-absorbed parents pass their misery onto their children. It is painful and fascinating to watch Margot slowly messing up her son – turning him from a sweet, emotionally open child into an angry, insecure adolescent.

“Margot at the Wedding” is an endlessly intelligent, insightful, and entertaining chronicle of the lives of unhappy people. It may be the best drama of the year.

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