Nicole Kidman's awful author needs a decent writer


Last updated at 18:03 29 February 2008

Disappointment of the week is Margot At The Wedding, writer-director Noah Baumbach's feeble follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Squid And The Whale.

It retreads the territory of his first movie - teenage children trying to survive obnoxious parents - but it does so with considerably less insight, charm and humour.

The anti-heroine is Margot Zeller (Nicole Kidman), a sharp-tongued short-story writer who's dissatisfied with her marriage (to a barely glimpsed John Turturro), and disapproving of the forthcoming nuptials of a sister she doesn't like (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to an unemployed artist whom Margot despises (Jack Black).

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Loveless: Nicole Kidman and Ciaran Hinds indulge in a shallow affair in Noah Baumbach's Margot At The Wedding

Margot takes her frustrations out on everyone around her, most notably her teenage son (Zane Pais), and is conducting an affair with a novelist (Ciaran Hinds) who is probably cleverer and more cruel even than she is.

There are some savagely funny observations of how beastly members of a family can be to each other, and there's one terrific scene when Kidman suddenly realises that Hinds not only doesn't love her, he doesn't even like her.

But this is one of those rambling, narrative-free films where you don't feel sufficiently for the characters. We don't know enough about any of them, and especially not Margot, to warm to their emotional problems.

With Kidman's writer, you don't know what lies behind her incessant unpleasantness.

Mr Baumbach seems fatally uncertain whether we should like or laugh at his central couple, and his actors don't help.

Jennifer Jason Leigh (who is married to the writer-director) plays the whole thing with the neurotic intensity of Strindberg, while Jack Black acts as though he's in a gross-out comedy: this is an ill-judged, shallow performance that by itself would be enough to ruin the movie.

The piece is a mess, stylistically, and it has the air of a semi-autobiographical, inadequately dramatised piece that's been brought out of Mr Baumbach's bottom drawer and dusted off, following the success of The Squid And The Whale.

He should try something different, and learn how to structure a screenplay.

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