Oh, white people. Will we ever tire of complaining about the aches and pains of our petty bourgeois existence? Boo hoo hoo, the line at the iPhone store was too long. Boo hoo hoo, the barista got the ratio of espresso to ice in my iced Americano wrong. Boo hoo hoo, the cuff-links I ordered on-line weren’t shipped overnight, and then they went to my apartment when I meant to have them delivered to the office, and I don’t have a doorman at my apartment, so I had to call UPS and give them an alternate address and they said they couldn’t redeliver until tomorrow morning. This is worse than apartheid!
Makes me sick to my stomach (which is full of foie gras and root beer floats and money).
Obviously, pain is subjective, and the pain suffered by the chronically self-indulgent is real. They actually feel this way! But pain is also relative, and the pain that they feel when their mimosa doesn’t have enough champagne in it is fundamentally less than the pain of someone having, say, their house torn down in the middle of the night. Does this mean that their stories don’t deserve to be told? It absolutely doesn’t mean that. It has been told, and The Royal Tenenbaums was a great movie. The end. But if you are going to tell their story (tell it again, because we already have The Royal Tenenbaums, so it’s kind of well-worn territory) then at least acknowledge that all suffering is not equal, and also maybe don’t make your audience suffer in the watching.
Margot at the Wedding is about Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her son Claude going to Margot’s sister’s New England house to watch her get married to Jack Black. The two sisters haven’t been talking for years, and it might have something to do with an auto-biographical story that Margot wrote years ago that resulted in her sister’s divorce? Margot is a “famous” writer and she lives in “Manhattan” and she clearly wants to fuck her 11-year-old son, and she’s leaving her husband, and she is sleeping with another writer who lives near her sister, and she’s super judgmental and mean and basically just awful to be around. At one point in the woods her sister shits her pants. Also there are next-door neighbors who do things like not wear shirts and have pig roasts and they are Deliverance raper people who want Jack Black and Margot’s sister to cut down a tree in their yard. They are creepy and sinister, although they’re also just not whiny post-yuppies, which might be what makes them so scary! The day before the wedding it turns out that Jack Black made out with the teenage daughter of the man Margot is having an affair with. He punches Jack Black in the face, and Jack Black cries. The wedding is off. They take a ferry somewhere and go to meet their mom and third sister, Becky, and Margot sends her son off on a bus to meet his father in Vermont but not before her son tells her that he masturbated the night before, because Noah Baumbach has some SERIOUS issues with masturbation, and then at the last minute Margot throws down her sweater (which was tied around her waist, naturally, because she is an upper-middle-class white woman) and also her purse and chases the bus and she gets on the bus like some kind of incestuous homage to The Graduate, and she says “Sweaters and purses? Where we’re going we don’t need any sweaters and purses!” She doesn’t say that, and we are left wondering what will ever happen to her stuff.
Everyone in the movie is completely insufferable and awful to be around. Is that the point? I’m willing to believe that that’s the point. But the problem with making a movie where the point is that some people are insufferable and awful to be around is that at the end of that movie I feel like “wow, what a bunch of insufferable awful people to be around, I wish I hadn’t been.” And it’s not like I was confused before the movie about people being selfish, self-indulgent, miserable assholes. I knew that! SPOILER ALERT I live in the world, too.
I liked The Squid and the Whale. Sure, it took itself a little too seriously, and felt like a senior thesis project for an all boy’s boarding school. But it had some funny parts in it, and was genuinely kind of compelling. The only funny parts in Margot at the Wedding are Jack Black’s parts, until he turns out to be a statutory rapist, which casts a sad, terrible shadow over his entire character. Yikes. And even before that his role wasn’t THAT funny. It’s like if you order fries from a restaurant that makes terrible fries, and there’s accidentally an onion ring in those fries, and you’re like, “Bonus! Free onion ring!” but it turns out that the restaurant also makes terrible onion rings. (There is no better way to express that.)
Watch how he “livens up” this white person lunch.
Ugh. Do you know what happens in the very next scene? Nicole Kidman complains that she already has slippers, and she hates it when people give her a present she already has. WELL THEN WHY DON’T YOU JUMP OFF OF A CLIFF, PLEASE. PLEASE DO THAT.
And of course there are the neighbors, who are terrifying “poor” people. Yuck! I wish someone would murder them! They’re so poor and they don’t even drink white wine all day. It’s hahrrible.
Of course, this would all be bad enough if the movie actually trusted its audience to be smart enough to just sit with these characters for an hour and a half and experience their lives for a moment, but it is constantly and pretentiously brow-beating the audience with its self-explanations. Here, Margot does a reading at a book store, because of how she is a famous writer, which we know because people keep saying it (actual movie-quote: “I loved your story in, what was it, Harper’s?”) (sidenote: the man interviewing her is the man she’s fucking [not her husband]):
Aha! She is actually a suffocating narcissist who simultaneously resents and wants to fuck her son! Thank you for explaining what was painfully obvious from the very beginning because when it comes to character development and emotional depth this movie uses broad brush strokes Why Cats Paint-style.
AND TO TOP IT ALL OFF, you can’t see a fucking thing in this movie! I know that independent (or whatever) cinema is often made on a very small budget, and I’m sure Nicole Kidman took a huge pay cut for this passion project (Whoops, that’s your passion), but seriously? You couldn’t afford a single light? These are screencaps from various scenes throughout the movie.
So it’s basically the world’s most annoying radio play. Because that’s also something that you can’t see at all.
This is my favorite part of the whole movie, from Wikipedia:
The script’s working title was Nicole at the Beach, but it was changed when Kidman signed on.
“Change the title to something almost exactly the same or I walk.”
Between Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, and Margot at the Wedding, it’s clear that Noah Baumbach is his generation’s great chronicler of bourgeois dissatisfaction. He is intensely preoccupied with the difficulties of having a fair amount of money and an inability to express emotion. Fair enough. That is, after all, what the bourgeois preoccupy themselves with. As for the rest of us, we can only hope that his Upper West Side analyst finally “cures” him and he can move onto something less unbearable. Like drawing room comedies. Or a documentary about caviar spoons.