Three out of Noah Baumbach's first four films are on my list of favorite movies of all time: Kicking and Screaming, Mr. Jealousy, and The Squid and the Whale. So it was with great enthusiasm that I went to see his fifth effort, Margot at the Wedding, a family melodrama starring Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Jack Black. It's somewhat of a minor masterpiece, but I don't think I can really recommend it to anyone because it is so deeply unsettling that it had me almost shaking at the end and I wouldn't wish that kind of psychological scarring upon my worst enemies—of which there are many, as you know.
Baumbach populates his movies with hyper-neurotic intellectuals who push the boundaries of their own sanity and test the limits of the people around them—to absurd comic effect in those first two movies and to dark and disturbing extremes in the latter two. Margot (played with icy fierceness by Kidman) and her son arrive at the house of her estranged sister (Leigh jumps on the crazy train once again, but this time rides it to the end of the line), and almost immediately the two siblings are at each other's throats. I am not exaggerating when I say that they are as fucked up, ferocious, trashy, unlikable, and petty as your typical Jerry Springer guests—but these two just also happen to be whip smart and run in fancy artistic circles. But the truth is that they really are borderline sociopaths. It's especially hard watching the way Margot constantly undercuts her son, whom she obviously adores but can't help but subtly berate.
Margot at the Wedding is a psychologically violent film, and, for me, it was perhaps harder to watch than most of the horror movies I've sat through this past year. Remember how The Squid and the Whale offered minor catharsis at the end? No catharsis here. What starts out completely fucked up ends up completely fucked up, and nobody—least of all the audience—is necessarily better because of it. Additionally, the film has no music score—a way to ensure that nothing distracts you from feeling the chill.