Monday, July 28, 2008

I Love the Work of Jennifer Jason Leigh: Margot at the Wedding

I experienced "Margot at the Wedding" as a 92 minute actors' workshop with two of the finest actors working (Jennifer Jason Leigh and Nicole Kidder) supported by Jack Black who held his own, whose absurd spirit and outrageous physical outbursts relieved the tension between Leigh and Kidder's characters.

The question for me, then, in writing about this movie is whether this is what I want from a movie. Do I want to spend 92 minutes experiencing brilliant acting and listening to a snappy script, but not have the pleasure of experiencing a plot being developed?

"Margot at the Wedding" presents a situation: Pauline (Leigh) and Margot (Kidman) are estranged sisters. Pauline is about to marry Malcolm (Black). Pauline, we find out, sorely wants Margot to attend the wedding, but doesn't know if she will.

Margot arrives.

The workshop begins. For starters, Malcolm is an unemployed musician/artist (of sorts). Margot disapproves of his manners, appearance, ambition, drunkenness, explosiveness, and impulsiveness. She chips away at their engagement through Pauline.

The scenes between Pauline and Margot electrify the movie.

Margot is arrogant, neurotic, narcissistic, cold, voracious, bitter, and, well, difficult. She's a writer, has maintained at least the vestiges of her upper middle class upbringing and is a snobbish nightmare; but the snobbery covers her longing for the intimacy her selfishness makes improbable, if not impossible.

Pauline, on the other hand, works hard to achieve self-actualization. She read self-help books. She and Malcolm have attended a couples retreat and she believes that she and Margot can become good sisters.

The men in Margot's life, her husband and one of her lovers, complicate the situation, as does the fact that she is a cold, self-absorbed mother to her son Claude.

I didn't expect this movie to come to a tidy resolution. It didn't. All the same, I enjoy plots and while I admired very much the soulful, vulnerable, and angry role Jennifer Jason Leigh nailed as Pauline and I admired how beautifully icy and vain Nicole Kidman played Margot, in the end, it felt like I'd been to an open actor's workshop and got to watch wonderful episodes and situations, but taken together, I didn't think they added up to whole lot.

But, I suppose that's the way it is in a fragmented family. The alienation and pain plays out in a series of episodes and the pain just keeps going on.

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