A mostly enjoyable, low-key family drama from director Noah Baumbach ("Kicking and Screaming", "Margot at the Wedding" opens with Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her son, Claude (Zane Pais) traveling home for the wedding of her sister, Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Malcolm (Jack Black.)
Margot is in the midst of a separation from her own husband (John Tuturro) and instantly chills in the presence of Malcolm, who's a decent enough guy, but seems a tad aimless. She makes her thoughts known - not always in the outward way, but the kind of underlying way that tends to raise tension and make matters even worse. Soon enough, Malcolm has had enough of everyone looking down on him and Pauline finds herself in the midst of a bit of a battle.
Meanwhile, there's a wedding between Pauline and Malcolm in the works, but as tensions rise between the sisters (not to mention Malcolm and Pauline) , the planning starts to go a little sour. Margot is also embarking on an affair with a guy living nearby, Dick (Ciarán Hinds) - and her son grows to resent the fact that his mom is kind of a jerk. However, at least he finds a friend in Ingrid (Flora Cross), Pauline's 12-year-old daughter.
While I'm sure that there are families out there like this, Baumbach's film does take things a little to extremes, as Kidman takes bitter and icy to another level - but it's a matter of creating a character that is so deeply unlikable (none of the characters here are really likable, but Kidman's really takes the cake) as to be tough to watch for 95 minutes.
Jennifer Jason Leigh does subtle hurt and emotion as wonderfully as ever and Jack Black - well, he's okay. While Black is a master comedian whose force-of-nature delivery works wonders, his performance here is uneven. There's a scene where Black is supposed to be emotional and it's so absurdly played that I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be funny or serious. As for funny, the movie could have used at least a few moments of lightness - not for laughs, but a couple of patches of lightness would have felt a little more realistic.
The performances are excellent; while I didn't like Kidman's character, I regard this as more of an issue with the writing than the performance. Jason Leigh and Pais are also excellent, as well. While I didn't think Jack Black offered a fantastic performance here, he does offer a reasonably good effort.
Overall, "Margot at the Wedding" could have offered a bit of light amidst all the cloudy characters, but the film is well-written and, while I wasn't dazzled by the material, the excellent cast does mostly give very fine efforts in their roles.
VIDEO: "Margot at the Wedding" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The presentation quality is quite good, as the image remained crisp and well-defined throughout much of the running time, save for a few minor instances of softness. Flaws were limited to a few minor instances of edge enhancement. No artifacting, print flaws or other concerns were seen. Colors looked natural and crisp, with no smearing or other flaws.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is dialogue-driven, with very little in the way of surround use. Audio quality is fine, with crisp dialogue and score.
EXTRAS: There is an interview with Baumbach and Jason Leigh and, while I think these two are great, this interview also often seemed like the two of them discussing that they think they're pretty great, too. Admittedly, there are some good insights into character and story here, but this interview did seem a tad fluffy. We also get two trailers and promos for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Margot at the Wedding" could have offered a little touch of light amidst all the cloudy characters, but the film is well-written and, while I wasn't dazzled by the material, the excellent cast does mostly give very fine efforts in their roles. The DVD presentation boasts very good video quality and fine audio, but minimal extras. Rent it.
The Film B-