bitch is back: Kidman in Margot at the Wedding.
Family That Hates Together
at the Wedding
by Noah Baumbach
Writing in much the same vein he drew on in The Squid and
the Whale, Noah Baumbach once again assembles a dysfunctional
family and then painstakingly, almost gleefully, pulls it
apart. One imagines what a very young Baumbach could do with
a hapless spider or fly.
In this case, Manhattan novelist Margot (Nicole Kidman) returns
to the family home on Long Island for the upcoming nuptials
of sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to affable loser
Malcolm (Jack Black). (Malcolm’s current “occupation” is letter
writing, having just spent a week penning a response to a
Times music review.) Margot brings along her pubescent
son Claude (Zane Pais) and her own seemingly bottomless store
of complaints, corrections and pronouncements. Pauline, she
tells Claude, is marrying beneath her. Later, during the emotionally
fraught visit, she betrays Pauline’s confidences, spilling
the beans about her pregnancy, and, for good measure, alternates
loving nods to Claude with deeply personal insults. In other
words, Margot is a complete monster, and yet, there’s something
strangely compelling, even recognizable about her.
At times one feels as if Baumbach is trying to channel Woody
Allen, yearning to create characters whose intellectual strengths
almost belie the fact that they are so utterly fucked-up.
It is during these moments when the movie feels constrained
and precious. At the same time, he displays a remarkable ear
for the lifelong conversations that percolate between warring
siblings, tapping into long-ago slights that still burn. Margot
at the Wedding is at its best when depicting the concomitant
love and tension between Margot and Pauline.
What’s most intriguing about Margot at the Wedding
is its intuitive take on family love and loyalty. At one point,
a character observes that love for family is more powerful
than anything else, a statement that seems ludicrous in light
of the series of unfortunate events that unfold during the
nuptial weekend. The truth to that philosophy, of course,
relates to narcissism and self-preservation; both Margot and
Pauline need to believe in their storied past, the specialness
of each other and their family, and no amount of evidence
to the contrary can undermine this underlying belief.
Quite often sterile, in look as well as tone—as if the bleached
out tans and grays of an off-season island have leached onto
the characters’ souls—Margot at the Wedding is uneven
and dark. The handheld camera work and dingy surroundings
give it a sort of 1970s PBS documentary look, which can be
really distracting. The occasional forays into Claude’s burgeoning
sexuality are decidedly uncomfortable, even raw, and I often
wondered whether they belonged in an altogether different
movie. Still, there are gems within, notably Kidman’s spot-on,
nuanced performance, which is matched beautifully by Leigh.
This isn’t a movie in which things really happen, but it does
have its special rewards.
nerd Machiavelli: Mitchell and the Pac Man Girls in The
King of Kong.
King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
by Seth Gordon
low-budget, affectionately nos talgic look at the heyday of
Donkey Kong and other classic arcade games, The King of
Kong is as mild-mannered as its hero, Steve Wiebe. Wiebe
was the underdog who broke the Donkey Kong world record set
by gaming icon Billy Mitchell. A reality-show-style documentary,
it juxtaposes these two archetypical arcade geeks as Mitchell
tries to reclaim his status with a new record. Though The
King of Kong will appeal most to fellow joystick obsessives,
it does contain enough naturally occurring humor and Middle
America idiosyncrasies to call to mind American Movie—but
without the condescension.
Set to a soundtrack of ‘80s pop songs and largely composed
of archival footage, The King of Kong explains the
enduring mystique of Donkey Kong, the extreme dexterity required
by its elevators and escalators, and its semi-legendary “kill
screen.” The game is organized into a sport by Walter Day,
the eccentric founder of Twin Galaxies Scoreboard, a basement
operation that scrupulously reviews videotapes of high-score
runs and determines the winners. When questions arise about
Wiebe’s videotape of his record-breaking run, Wiebe agrees
to a live challenge, to be held at the Fun Box, a run-down
arcade parlor habituated by the game’s handful of top players.
Wiebe’s appearance is likened to Tiger Woods competing at
Augusta; later, Day—without a hint of irony—will compare the
competition between Wiebe and Mitchell as one of the great
rivalries in sports, on a par with Mantle and Maris.
Wiebe is an all-American family man, a high-school science
teacher who developed his eye-to-hand coordination by pitching
and playing drums. Mitchell, whose mother suspected he was
autistic as a child, is posited as a shifty-eyed Machiavellian,
and his resemblance to Nick Cave is dramatized when a Cave
dirge is played to a close-up of Mitchell slicking back his
long, dark hair. Mitchell’s dry-as-a-Mennen Speed Stick sense
of humor enlivens the film’s stretches of tepid geekitude:
Responding over the phone to the sound of a handful of gamers
unenthusiastically applauding a video of his comeback run,
he replies, “Helen of Troy hadn’t this much attention.” In
an attempt to up the competition’s emotional impact, Wiebe
is shown with what are obviously glycerin tears streaming
down his face. As the camera pulls in for a tighter close-up,
he cracks up laughing.
The cultural import of The King of Kong unnoticeably
heightens when the Guinness Book of World Records (a
much larger, but similar, bastion of nerdiness) contacts Day
for a list of champions, legitimizing the game—and giving
Day’s Twin Galaxies Scoreboard a shot at international credibility.
Yet the protagonists’ rise to fame is less compelling than
the sequences of longtime gamers plying their skills on (now-vintage)
consoles and engaging in their own peculiar rituals and rivalries,
oblivious to the fact that their pasttime will spawn a global,