A thoughtful Wedding gift

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Why are we going? asks Claude (Zane Pais) of his mother, Margot (Nicole Kidman), as they sit on a train bound for the wedding of her estranged sister, Paulina (Jennifer Jason Leigh).

Were supporting her, says Margot, her response terse, coated in ice.

In Margot at the Wedding, Noah Baumbachs harsh yet darkly funny glimpse into a few misery-drenched days in the strained relationship of two sisters, the disregard of feelings is strewn about like raw meat to wild, ravenous dogs.

Its absolutely hypnotic to watch this emotional collision occur, and Baumbach, who last directed the similarly emotionally squirmy The Squid and the Whale, cranks up the toxicity.

The movie is at once amusing, unsettling and compelling. The narrative stream is somewhat secondary to the characters, yet the situations faced by this small crew propel them into a space best described as uncertain and unstable.

Part of the problem seems to do with sibling rivalry. Margot is a well-known Manhattan-based writer. Paulina is … well, were never quite certain. But she has ownership of the family house, situated somewhere between Manhattan and Vermont.

The sisters havent spoken for years after a story by Margot brought Paulinas first marriage to a screeching halt. Now Paulina has found another chance at happiness with a kind yet insecure slacker named Malcolm (Jack Black).

The pairs hasty wedding is meant to foster peace. But you know how these things go. Bitter things are said, revelations come to light, confidences are betrayed and vicious truths are laid raw.

Add to the tension Margots decision to leave her husband, Jim (John Turturro), her tentative affair with a colleague (Ciaran Hinds), as well as a nasty situation with Paulines neighbors, and youve got a recipe for disaster.

Baumbach coaxes phenomenal performances out of the cast, but no one shines more brightly than Leigh and Kidman, who has had a splotchy career of late.

With Margot, she re-establishes her worth as a fine actress, one who should accept only quality roles that take advantage of her gifts.

Leigh hasnt been seen lately in high-profile roles, so its terrific to see her in a starring turn, clearly still at the top of her game. Black gives a nuanced performance, perhaps his best ever, and newcomer Pais is a revelation, bathing his performance in awkwardness.

We all enjoy movies in which families crumble and disassemble before our eyes it somehow makes our own problems seem more tenable and less urgent. Margot at the Wedding more than delivers on that promise, a small gift you wont soon forget.

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