Thursday, February 21, 2008

In Invasion, Nicole Kidman plays a troubled mother whose face randomly changes shape thanks to the months between reshoots. In Margot At The Wedding, it's her state of mind that's unpredictable. Both efforts are remarkable. A side effect of the botox boom in Hollywood is that we have a new way to verify commendability: if we can think of a character outside of the star that plays them - DESPITE obvious, horrifying and unacknowledged plastic surgery - they and the screenwriter must have done a pretty good job.

If Jennifer Jason Leigh's had any work done, then that doctor did an even better job. Her graceful response to aging gets in the way of distinctions Margot director Noah Baumbach, again offering a teenager's memoir of adult dysfunction, wants to make between her and Kidman (unless an artifically tightened face is supposed to signify the hollowness of the latter's upscale, writerly existence compared to Leigh's dowdy, rural one). It's Leigh's smirk and open nightshirt that rescues a bedroom sequence that would have been otherwise unforgivable thanks to an thorough presenation of Jack Black's bare ass.

Black is entertaining as a schleppy dud of a boyfriend ("I haven't had that thing yet, where you realize that you're not the most important person in the world"), but its easily the shtickiest performance in the film, and part of the Margot's threat to descend to Solondz-like levels of quease-for-quease's sake. Maybe I'm just more familiar with the male adolescent reaction to divorce than life with a family of crazies, so I'm less likely to accept the presented scenario compared to Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale. But the pathologies and motivations develop as the film goes on, gaining sympathy if not total understanding. This is only fair, as nobody on screen really gets things either.

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