Monday, March 03, 2008

Margot at the Wedding: Grade A

Margot at the Wedding (2007)
Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jack Black. Writer-Director Noah Baumbach.

This case study of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is so faithful to the diagnosis it could be used in a college classroom. Kidman delivers her dazzling magic. She is one of the best actors working today. Leigh also gives a superb performance. Jack Black is good, for Jack Black. Kidman is Margot, a Manhattan writer who visits her estranged sister (Leigh) in country Vermont, prior to the sister’s wedding to a goofy, unemployed wannabe writer/artist (Black).

Margot and her sister both have textbook BPD, a serious psychiatric disorder of hypersensitivity to criticism, huge short-term emotional swings, inability to sustain relationships, impulsive behavior, self-image disturbances, cognitive distortions, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and other high-risk behaviors, just to name a few symptoms. Wikipedia gives a good overview of the syndrome. The sister’s boyfriend has a different kind of personality disorder, not drawn in detail.

Margot disapproves of Black and lets her sister know it. The sister is pregnant but hasn’t told her fiancĂ© yet. She tells Margot in confidence, but do you think Margot will keep that secret? The infighting and emotional swings are dramatic and often funny. There is something to recognize from anybody's last dysfunctional family reunion. However, because all the characters are “nuts” (to use a technical term), their behavior is arbitrary and seemingly unmotivated, so it is impossible to care about them. There is no plot, just endless bickering. The hothouse of emotions recalls Woody Allen’s neurotic Manhattan films, and especially the 1966 classic movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The dialog crackles with sophistication but at the price of making the characters mere dialog delivery vehicles. Throughout, the writing stridently calls attention to itself. I give the movie an A because the acting by Kidman and Leigh is so good that I watched helplessly with the morbid fascination one has for a spectacular highway crash.

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