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December 2007

By Melissa Walters



Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Director: Noah Baumbach
Screenwriter: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, Jennifer Jason Leigh, John Turturro, Ciaran Hinds, Flora Cross, and Zane Pais
Rating: R (for sexual content and language)


Noah Baumbach, writer and director of 2005’s semi autobiographical Squid and the Whale, brings us another tale about dealing with burgeoning midlife crisis and its impact on the family, this time through a tale of two sisters. However, unlike the Squid and the Whale, the characters here are painfully pathetic and unsympathetic, and this film is unlikely to garner the recognition of its predecessor.

Nicole Kidman stars as Margot, an uptight writer who uses her estranged sister’s unexpected wedding as an opportunity to escape Manhattan and her troubled marriage. Accompanied by her teenage son Claude (Zane Pais), Kidman travels to her childhood home in the north east, where her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) resides with her daughter, Ingrid (Flora Cross) and fiancée, Malcolm (Jack Black). Although skeptical about the motivations for her sister’s return, Pauline gives her sister the benefit of the doubt and confides in her. However, what appears to be the beginning of a reconciliation, is short lived as Margot’s sanctimonious and judgmental tendencies explode, the brunt of her wrath directed at Malcolm. Margot, in the midst of separating from her own husband (John Turturro), decides that Malcolm, a self proclaimed slacker, is beyond redemption and unworthy of the intelligent, if slightly flighty, Pauline. When a secret revealed surrounding Pauline’s babysitter jeopardizes the pending nuptials, typical to Blumbaugh’s style, the wedding plans are aborted and the characters cast into a journey of no resolution.

While channeling Woody Allen’s fascination for the quirks of urbanites, and particularly New Yorkers, Baumbach’s storytelling about this dysfunctional family is hardly satisfying or comical. There are a lot of parallel story lines and interesting dialogue but no depth, minimal understanding and no real humor. Despite the shortcomings of the writing, the darkness of the cinematography successfully emphasizes the bleak tenor of the film and the performances were noteworthy. Notwithstanding the polar opposites of the characters that they play, Kidman and Leigh’s performances were perfectly complimentary. Jack Black, whose niche is comedic roles, managed to hold his own opposite Kidman and Leigh. His attempt at seriousness and sensitivity was convincing. Honorable mention to Pais, who in his film debut offers a compelling performance of competing emotions as a needy adolescent victimized by his mother’s belittling.