It's always refreshing to see a film with no explosions or cars being driven by maniacs and then, of course, exploding. The explosiveness here lies just below the surface, and some of these characters do eventually crash into one another.
Margot (Nicole Kidman) returns to her old stomping grounds ostensibly to attend the wedding of her estranged sister Pauline, (Jennifer Jason Leigh) though Margot's primary motivation may be to have another go at it with Dick, a former lover. Pauline's fiance, Malcolm, (Jack Black) is a quasi-musician with no ambition who brings to mind the quaint term "layabout boy." Margot has a nasty mouth , and speaks to people in a way that deletes the editing for sensitivity that most of us do when we're trying to be diplomatic. And while the sisters claim to be best friends, they snipe at each other in bitingly sarcastic ways that would make the casual observer think otherwise. (Though, in my experience, such behavior is not uncommon among female siblings who, at their core, really DO care for each other--it's just hard for them to get past the petty, childish resentments they've been carrying around with them since they were kids.)
At one point Margot climbs to the top of a tree to prove she's still got some of the old tomboy in her, but can't get back down on her own and has to be rescued--perhaps a metaphor for people who act impulsively without considering the possible consequences, which is what most of these characters do. Margot is married--though the relationship is on the rocks--but she dives back into a tryst with Dick, who is arrogant and insensitive to her feelings. Pauline is going to marry Malcolm basically because no one else asked her. Things come to a head when Margot and Pauline "have it out" in a deliciously caustic exchange where Margot reveals her true feelings about Malcolm.
Margot At The Wedding has the feel of a small independent production with some big stars. All three headliners gave me something I liked: Kidman has some poignant moments as a woman who is unsure of which way her life is headed; Jack Black is understatedly hilarious; and we get a couple of topless views of Jennifer (always good to see her again). But the true star of this picture is the quirky dialogue from writer/director Noah Baumbach with lines the the likes of: "I left a piece of skin in a movie theatre once so it could watch movies the rest of its life."
In the end, there's no accounting for who we love or why we love-- and Love itself is the most capricious entity of all in this wicked, offbeat comedy.
RETRO GRADE: B