Stars Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are arresting as long-estranged sisters whose best intentions are no match for decades of warped sibling rivalry, but writer-director Noah Baumbach never steps beyond their intensely self-centered psychodrama to tell an engaging story. Brittle, Manhattan-based writer Margot (Kidman), whose short, sharp tales...read more
Stars Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh are arresting as long-estranged sisters whose best intentions are no match for decades of warped sibling rivalry, but writer-director Noah Baumbach never steps beyond their intensely self-centered psychodrama to tell an engaging story.
Brittle, Manhattan-based writer Margot (Kidman), whose short, sharp tales of family dysfunction have earned her the respect of the New Yorker set, hasn't spoken to her sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) in years. So Pauline is surprised when Margot turns up at the family home, with pubescent son Claude (Zane Pais) in tow but husband Jim (John Turturro) conspicuously absent, a few days before Pauline's wedding to slacker slob Malcolm (Jack Black). Margot says she wants to bury the hatchet, but naturally there's more to it than that: Margot's marriage is on the rocks and she's giving a talk at a nearby bookstore that's hosted by an old flame, fatuous historical novelist Dick Koosman (Ciaran Hinds), whose ripely teenage daughter, Maisy (Halley Feiffer), sometimes babysits for Pauline's 11-year-old daughter, Ingrid (Flora Cross). As Pauline and Malcolm prepare for their backyard nuptials, Margot casts her merciless eye on every aspect of her sister's life, which naturally comes up short. Margot offends Pauline's friends Toby and Alan (Seth Barrish, Matthew Arkin) by insisting that their adopted son (Brian Kelly) is autistic ("She thinks everyone's autistic," Pauline later snarls); spills the secret that Pauline is pregnant; escalates existing tensions with the white-trash neighbors into an all-out war; and insidiously undermines Pauline's relationship with Malcolm.
Baumbach, Leigh's husband and the son of film critic Georgia Brown and novelist Jonathan Baumbach, is intimately familiar with both smart-set family neurosis and its devastating emotional fallout. What he lacks is perspective — which is not the same as a propensity for obvious metaphors, like the rotting tree that looms large in Pauline's and Margot's childhood memories and under which Malcolm and Pauline intend to get married — and without perspective, his characters are deeply uninteresting, overprivileged whiners, a criticism that applies equally to Baumbach's overrated THE SQUID AND THE WHALE. It's a shame to see such dedicated performers flay their psyches in the service of such fundamentally shallow material.
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