(2007) dir. Noah Baumbach
After his success with The Squid and the Whale (2005), there was a lot of expectation of writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest film, written for Nicole Kidman and Baumbach’s wife, actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. But from the get-go the film got negative reviews. From both word of mouth and reviews across the board, it received more derision than praise. Still, it only put me off of seeing it theatrically. I was fine with it for DVD.
The critiques are pretty apt. Baumbach’s strengths are his characters that he develops, both in writing and with the actors. The world that he inhabits is very much East Coast, upper-middle class, intellectual and dysfunctional. For this film, he focuses on the relationship between two sisters, the titular published author Margot (Kidman) and the kinder yet less successful Pauline (Leigh), whose wedding is also titular.
The problem is with Margot. She is so stiff and mean and unlikeable that she’s almost completely unsympathetic. Throw in Jack Black…actually, I wish they hadn’t thrown in Jack Black. He’s become the new generation’s Robin Williams. He’s always, always the same, but his character is so fucking stupid and selfish, you end up agreeing with Margot that Pauline should be able to do better.
The emotional center, as it was in The Squid and the Whale, is with the kids, caught between the psychoses and dramas of their parents, sensitive, intelligent, almost coming of age. This is the oddity, perhaps, because it almost should be more like “Margot’s son at the Wedding” because though Margot is a site of personal terror for all that inhabit her world, she is more objectively viewed. You don’t identify with her. And when the film ends, Margot suddenly runs up to catch her son in a bus, presumably making a dramatic choice about her life. Maybe if the film was different, this could have worked. It felt like it was supposed to be poignant, but it wasn’t.
All that said, I really didn’t think it was a “bad” movie. Believe me, I have seen much, much worse. I guess that the expectations of Baumbach are validly high, so you kind of feel that maybe there was a good movie here somewhere. Or maybe it just needed to be less extreme in the characterization. I don’t know. I’m not here to try to figure out what this film could have been. But just to say that if one likes his other films, you don’t necessarily have to avoid this one.
My favorite thing, which I say with a little chagrin, is the extremely cute and charming Flora Cross, Pauline’s teenage daughter. She makes me wish that I was 15 and that I had her phone number. I liked her in the film. Take that for what it’s worth.