Magazine article The American Conservative

Tell Me about Your Mother

Magazine article The American Conservative

Tell Me about Your Mother

Article excerpt

[Margot at the Wedding]

FEW FILMS have more precisely delineated why younger people loathe their Baby Boomer parents' experiments with sexual liberation than Noah Baumbach's painfully autobiographical comedy about his bohemian intellectual parents' 1980s divorce, "The Squid and the Whale." The adults, both writers, calmly set up a fair sounding joint-custody arrangement that has their two children (and family cat) ceaselessly hauled about Park Slope, a literary neighborhood in Brooklyn, but it turns out to be a logistical and emotional catastrophe.

In "The Squid and the Whale," Jeff Daniels won some long deserved recognition for his hilarious portrayal of Baumbach's father, a pompous "experimental fiction" author and professor given to dinner-table pronouncements such as referring to Kafka as "one of my predecessors."

Despite adoring reviews, most critics missed the 2005 film's point: that the actual villain was Baumbach's adulterous mother. They overlooked its central theme--the destructiveness of female infidelity--because it's sexist (and therefore unthinkable) to notice that, for obvious reproductive reasons, a wife's cheating is even more destructive for the family than a husband's, even though countless human cultures have felt that way.

The irony was that Baumbach's bloviating father was equally clueless about his own nature. In theory, he was an artistic genius above all those deadening bourgeois morals like monogamy. In reality, however, he was a mediocre writer but a faithful husband and reasonably diligent provider who deserved better than cuckoldry.

The younger Baumbach's eagerly awaited new movie, "Margot at the Wedding," with Nicole Kidman as a prominent short-story writer and unfaithful wife who inflicts her moral and mental breakdown on her adolescent son when she brings him to her estranged sister's second marriage ceremony, makes his prior film brutally clear. To clear up misconceptions about who the guilty party in his parents' divorce was, Baumbach has John Turturro drop by as Kidman's gallant, kind husband, an English professor who tries to save their marriage from her affair with another writer.

Meanwhile, the insidious Margot does her passive-aggressive best to sabotage the upcoming wedding of her aging, pregnant sister (Baumbach's wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh) to an unemployed musician. Jack Black, the usually charismatic star of "School of Rock," does an impression of his typical fan in his role as Leigh's heavy-metal-damaged fiance. …

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