Margot and her son Claude decide to visit her sister Pauline after she announces that she is marrying less-than-impressive Malcolm. In short order, the storm the sisters create leaves behind a a mess of thrashed relationships and exposed family secrets.
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Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents' divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980s.
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A slice of family life: sisters, husbands, children, history, secrets, jealousies. Margot and her teen son, Claude, travel from Manhattan to her family's Long Island home, occupied by sister Pauline, Pauline's daughter, and Malcolm, the slacker Pauline will marry outdoors that week under a tree neighbors want removed. Backbiting marks family discussion, particularly between the sisters and in Margot's cutting remarks to Claude. Pauline tells Margot a secret that Margot promptly tells Claude. Margot dislikes Malcolm and undermines him. She also has marital problems and a lover nearby. People are cruel, inside and outside their families. Is there a refuge for Margot or for Pauline? Written by
Not a nice film, but more worthwhile than most of the trash at cinemas. One to make you think, perhaps.
I assume you are normal. Whatever that is. Would you ever stop to question that?
Margot is a fish out of water. She would be 'normal' back home. Her pond is Manhattan. Intellectuals. 'Nice' people. Successful. Words of several syllables that easily slip into popular psychobabble - but in an acceptable sort of way. Social affirmation obscures our faults. The world after all is as we, and our friends, understand it to be. A self-selecting reality.
For Margot's sister Pauline, the self-selecting, self-affirming, 'normality' is different. She lives in the countryside. Fulfilment would be a down-to-earth lifestyle with someone who thinks she's great. That man in her life, played by Jack Black, is a very ordinary sort. He doesn't even have a proper job. But they seem content. They will marry under the family tree. In the garden.
As two worlds collide, flaws that could have been overlooked come nastily to the surface. Margot can only return Pauline's sisterly love in a cold, cerebral way. She becomes easy to dislike. We soon doubt her sincerity. Pauline looks more and more pathetic against her accomplished sibling. She becomes easy to feel sorry for. Blood is thicker than water. But it exerts unbearable strain.
In best scenarios, romantic comedies and feelgood movies, love always triumphs over dysfunctionality. If only life was so reliable. With the uplifting coup of family bonds in such films as Little Miss Sunshine or The Darjeeling Ltd. Those movies provided us with reassuring escapism. And I admit they were more satisfying than the rather bleak Margot at the Wedding. But it is this film that gives such niggling pause for thought.
It is easy for box office comedy to turn on family difference that ultimately heals. But it is the less than fairytale endings that we have to deal with in real life. Not funny. Maybe just a bit painful. Like estranged family. Hurts that don't heal in a neat two hours of celluloid.
Margot at the Wedding is not a great movie. Nor a comfortable one. It looks at the fragility of one's persona - or definition of normality - that we use to interact with society. With society's forgiving and less forgiving parts. Parts that are perhaps within our own families. But it does encourage you to think. And there are too few movies out just now that do that.
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