No Joy Found in This Depressing Wedding
- Annabelle Robertson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2008 22 Feb
DVD Release Date: February 18, 2008
Theatrical Release Date: November 16, 2007
Rating: R (for language and sexuality)
Run Time: 92 min.
Director: Noah Baumbach
Actors: Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black, Zane Pais, Ciaron Hinds, John Turturro
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following review contains discussion of adult subject matter that is not appropriate for young readers. Parents, please exercise caution.
Together with her 12-year-old son, Claude (Zane Pais), Manhattan novelist Margot (Nicole Kidman) heads to the Hamptons for the wedding of her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Pauline lives in their childhood home on the water and is marrying a struggling artist/musician named Malcolm (Jack Black).
Margot is a woman of few boundaries. She uses her son as a private confidante, snoops in her sister’s things and even reveals a secret, that Pauline is pregnant. And, though married, Margot is also sleeping with a fellow writer, who just happens to be one of Pauline’s neighbors—something Pauline suspects as the real reason behind Margot’s sudden urge to visit.
Margot and Pauline have been estranged for some time, largely due to Margot’s use of family stories in her writing, so their reunion is prickly. After she begins criticizing Malcolm—and everyone else she meets, from their best friends and the next-door neighbors to strangers on a walking path—tensions mount even further. Margot is also manipulative, in subtle ways that play mind tricks on her son. “Just use a condom,” she says, after he expresses interest in the teenage babysitter. When Claude finally begins to bond with his aunt, she lies that Pauline is disappointed in him, because “he hasn’t been very helpful.”
Nicole Kidman’s talent oozes to the surface in this role, which she plays with a disconcerting mélange of sympathy and cunning. You can’t help but shrink from her viciousness, yet you pity her, too. Leigh (who is married to the film’s writer/director, Noah Baumbach) gets to play a sane character for once (albeit a dysfunctional one) and does so winningly. She’s the baby sister who is no longer jealous, and who just wants a little peace and happiness.
Newcomer Pais shows great promise as the budding adolescent who is starting to realize that Mom isn’t perfect, but who isn’t quite sure why. Not that anyone can be, because Baumback doesn’t even allude to a reason for all this dysfunction. Black, on the other hand, struggles with his role. It’s a relief to see him in a serious part, but he can’t seem to escape from his melodramatic comedic urges. He cries like a small child, runs away from another adult and throws temper tantrums—all overplayed for this subdued film.
Baumbach, who is best known for his 2005 film, The Squid and the Whale, writes about what he knows. He’s the son of famed Village Voice critic Georgia Brown and novelist Jonathan Baumbach, and thus grew up among the literati of New York City. It’s no wonder, therefore, that his films have a strong literary feel and explore parent-child relationships.
Using austere cinematography that matches the chilly relationships and ocean breezes, Baumbach infuses his film with lots of symbolism: a tree that may get chopped down; the slaughter of a pig; a child who leaves pieces of skin around the house. But in the end, they don’t lead anywhere and in some cases, even seem extraneous. Accusations are launched, secrets are revealed, decisions are made—all without any real meaning or consequence. It’s a bit like reading a long, obscure novel. The characters are mildly interesting and the dialogue is good, but you don’t care what happens.
Unlike French New Wave filmmakers like Eric Rohmer, who influenced Baumbach—and unlike The Squid and the Whale—Baumbach provides no redemption here. In fact, he seems to be saying that this behavior is not only inevitable, but also irreparable. And that, perhaps, is his most egregious error. Everyone longs for hope beyond the pain of broken relationships. But watching such a dismal spectacle is like listening to the clamor of a discordant harmony. It’s uncomfortable, and it’s depressing, and you just want it to end.
Ultimately, only those with a prurient interest in dysfunction—and a lot of patience—are apt to appreciate this one.
- A conversation with Noah Baumbach and Jennifer Jason Leigh
- Theatrical Trailers
- Drugs/Alcohol: Characters drink and smoke throughout film; one or two become intoxicated. Characters smoke pot in one scene and become high.
- Language/Profanity: Numerous discussions—often with crude terms and strong obscenities—about sex and adultery. Various obscenities and profanities, some strong. Crude references to homosexual behavior by an adolescent.
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Ongoing discussion throughout film about sex, sexuality, and sexual relationships. Various scenes involving adolescent and teenage sexuality and some adult nudity. [A woman pleasures herself; a character talks about her youthful promiscuity; a character commits adultery; another embraces her lover in front of her adolescent child; characters engage in sexual acts indoors and outdoors (offscreen); a male character examines himself in the mirror, nude, and discusses his anatomy in detail (full rear nudity); a female character appears in her underwear with an unbuttoned shirt, fully exposing her breasts; multiple characters cavort outdoors in the nude, as children watch from behind a fence; a mother advises her 12-year-old son to “just use a condom” if he becomes sexually involved with his babysitter, then leaves him alone to do just that; an older teenage girl climbs on top of an adolescent boy and rubs him, fully clothed; adolescent boy appears in his underwear; adolescent boy tells his mother that he pleasured himself; an adult man confesses that he “made out with” a teenage girl and describes that interaction, which is later condemned as pedophilia.]
- Violence: Adolescent boy menaces then assaults another, biting him in the neck; an adult chases then viciously attacks (hits, kicks) another adult as he lays on the ground, pleading for mercy. Harsh verbal exchanges.