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“Margot at the Wedding”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: “Margot at the Wedding,” Paramount Classics, 2007]

There are two family trees in Noah Baumbach’s “Margot at the Wedding,” and both are in deep trouble. The one in the backyard of the Zellers’ house is overgrown. Neighbors say it’s dead and demand it be cut down. The Zellers themselves can’t agree on anything except the fact that the tree must stay, protecting it as a way of clinging to their own flimsy relationships.

The title character (played by Nicole Kidman) returns home with her son Claude (Zane Pais) for the title nuptials of her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Baumbach’s real-life wife). Margot’s thoroughly convinced that Pauline’s sad-sack fiancé Malcolm (Jack Black) isn’t good enough for her sister, just as we’re convinced that Margot is probably projecting some of her own marital dissatisfaction onto the situation. Like Baumbach’s last film, the wonderful “The Squid and the Whale,” “Margot” explores how resilient families truly are in the wake of disintegrating marriages.

Whether these stories are autobiographical or not, Baumbach clearly understands dysfunctional families. In the case of “Margot at the Wedding” though, he may have invented one so convincingly screwed up, so far beyond repair that spending 90 loveless, awkward minutes with them could be seen as a waste of time. “The Squid and the Whale”‘s Berkmans were at odds, but likeably so; the Zellers are similarly unhappy, but they don’t share the sweetness and wry sense of humor that made their predecessors so entertaining. Margot’s most ironically poignant line comes at the end of the film when she tells Claude, “It’s good you’re going. I wouldn’t want to be around me either.” It’s a sentiment many audience members will share.

That’s unfortunate, because Baumbach remains a clever writer, and his skills as a director continue to grow. Nothing is overlooked, and you have to admire how Baumbach micromanages scenes to make big points with little events — consider the way he punctuates a particularly uncomfortable scene at a pool party with the discovery of a dead mouse in the deep end. “Margot” is far and away his best-looking and most carefully visually crafted film as a director, and the underlit interiors and muted colors aesthetic augments the story’s emotional realism. He also draws a wonderful performance out of Black, who is at his funniest in a role that isn’t necessarily written all that humorously, drawing the laughs out with delivery, posture and glances (his physique and lack of shame in his underwear helps with the chuckles too). The movie would probably be better off, in fact, if it was “Malcolm at the Wedding.”

But it’s Margot at the wedding, and so the movie hangs on her; the way she rejects her husband and her new lover; the way she treats Claude more like a sibling, or even a psychiatrist, than a son. She’s self-obsessed, yet totally devoid of self-awareness. That contradiction is never more fully on display as the scene when Margot decides to climb that dead family tree in order to prove just how good she used to be at climbing trees, only to realize that once she gets up there she can’t get back down. And now she’s stuck.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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