The affection that director Noah Baumbach feels for his characters often negates the affectations he burdens them with. In his latest film, Margot at the Wedding (rated R for language and sexual content), characters are drowned by their own flaws, quirks, and damages.
The story centers on Margot (Nicole Kidman, pictured) and her adolescent son Claude (Zane Pais) as they travel to the Hamptons for her sister Pauline's wedding at their parents' home. From the beginning Margot lashes out at everyone within earshot.
Kidman's Margot is all sharp edges and contradictions. At times needy, solitary, and cruel, her intellect is intended to outshine her flaws, but we are not privy to her strengths on screen. A successful short story writer, Margot at once attracts and repels everyone around her. The continued interest in her seems less motivated by love than habit, but we never learn how these habits formed.
Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) tells Claude at one point: "It's hard to find people in the world you love more than your family." But the film never gets around to displaying the love. Margot is ruining her marriage to the perpetually forgiving Paul (John Turturro), and it's split odds on whether Pauline is marrying Malcolm (Jack Black) out of love or desperation. Both Turturro and Black bring the most to their characters. And Leigh's performance manages to bring some heart to the often cerebral story, but Kidman leaves the film with a cold center.
The familiarity that Baumbach brought to post-college life in Kicking and Screaming and the ways children experience divorce in The Squid and the Whale is lacking here. Baumbach provides the beginnings of interesting characters and some well-captured moments, but fails to bring his story together.