Margot at the Wedding
“I haven’t had that thing yet where you realize you’re not the most important person in the world.” – Jack Black in Margot at the Wedding.
Margot (Nicole Kidman) comes from a snooty, east coast, literary type family. When she returns to her family home for the wedding of her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to a bohemian slacker named Malcolm (Jack Black), sparks fly, old family resentments bubble up and it’s all presented for the audience’s amusement.
The good news is that it’s often bitterly funny. Writer/Director Noah Baumbach has a knack for mining uncomfortable emotional territory for laughs, always managing to leave a slightly bitter aftertaste, just enough to make it feel real. He’s also got a terrific eye and ear for little character and story details. The performances by Kidman and Leigh are also perfect. Both actresses expose the flaws in their characters while maintaining the sympathetic humanity underneath. Margot is the iciest and most flawed of the bunch, but you can’t help feeling sorry for her thanks in large part to Kidman.
The bad news is that I don’t identify with the characters and the movie itself overall doesn’t add up to much for me. My family is neither upper class, east coast nor literary and our ties aren’t strong enough that we can continue to get under one another’s skin like we did as kids. If a sibling bugged me as much as Margot and Pauline, I would never see them. It’s that simple. Pauline says “It’s hard, I think, to find people you love more than your family,” but it doesn’t ring true here. I’m not convinced these people actually love each other. They’re simply locked in mortal competition with one another. Perhaps that’s the point, but even then I can’t help but think “Get over it.”
Margot at the Wedding is still good, but I’m afraid I was hoping for a little something extra. It opens in limited release on November 16, 2007.
In Search of a Midnight Kiss
This microbudgeted indie from a group of Austin friends transplanted to Los Angeles (“The city where love comes to die.”) has been the nicest surprise of the festival.
Ever since he broke up with his girlfriend and moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dreams as an actor, Wilson’s life has taken a turn for the worse. Unable to find work or love in the alienating urban expanse, the thought of enduring one more New Year’s Eve without someone to share it with is too much. His soon-to-be-engaged roommate Jacob convinces him to place an ad on Craig’s List.
The result is a 5 minute test date with pretty, but possibly unstable Vivian. She’s interviewing a bunch of men to see which one is worthy of being at her side at midnight on New Year’s. It’s the best chance Wilson is going to get and he has nothing to lose but make the most of it.
The story then follows the pair around the city (beautifully and romantically captured in glorious black and white) as they get to know one another leading up to midnight. The story makes a couple of missteps here and there that threaten to ruin the momentum it has built up, but it never falls on its face and it rallies in the end.
The character of Wilson could easily have been identifiable but unsympathetic and annoying as the mopey loser, but Scoot McNairy infuses him with just enough charm that he’s easy to root for. Sara Simmonds and Brian McGuire are even better and more convincing as Vivian and Jacob. McGuire especially gets many of the best lines and he delivers them with a laid back humor that lets him be funny even if he’s being kind of a pig. Most importantly, there is a real chemistry between Wilson and Vivian and Midnight milks it for all it’s worth.
I don’t know if or where this movie is going to play, but anyone who has ever known what it’s like to be alone should seek out In Search of a Midnight Kiss.
Gregg Araki’s female take on the stoner comedy starts out very strong and very funny. How did Jane (Anna Faris) end up on top of the ferris wheel at Santa Monica pier talking to Roscoe Lee Browne in her head? It all began with a lot of marijuana, of course.
There is a Harold and Kumar vibe here as Jane’s pot fueled day takes her from one adventure to another. Can she make it to her 11:30 audition, pay off her dealer and replace her creepy roommate’s cupcakes she’d earlier scarfed down before it’s too late? And how does the Communist Manifesto fit into it all? Smiley Face answers all these questions and more.
For about 20 minutes I thought a minor comedy classic was unfolding before me, but unfortunately it slowly runs out of gas as it goes along and the payoff never quite delivers on the early promise. This is all pretty familiar territory, but it’s amusing territory and Faris is funny.
I don’t know if Smiley Face will ever achieve the cult status of some of the movies it aspires to, but it’s still worth checking out for anyone who has ever been a little too stoned.
It’s playing for 1 week at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles, but its fate beyond that remains uncertain. I think it has a distributor (First Look), but they apparently don’t have plans for a significant release at this time. It’s good enough that it deserves better than straight to DVD treatment, but it will play well on the small screen.
AFI Film Fest 2007 concludes today. I’m seeing The Savages and the documentary about David Lynch. I’m skipping the closing night gala Love in the Time of Cholera. I’m not sure when the awards will be announced, but tomorrow I should have capsule reviews of the last two films plus a recap of my overall impressions.