After writing and directing the pitch perfect movie that is The Squid and the Whale, Noah Baumbach was undoubtedly under a heavy amount of self-imposed pressure to follow it up with something equally as caustic in its assessment of family dynamics.
Even though the film is called Margot at the Wedding, a more accurate title might be Margot at the Convention of Psychopaths, but then studios are so stringent about names that reveal too much of the plot. Consequently, Margot at the Wedding isn't really a script that is plot-driven, but centered around Margot's (played by the effortlessly callous Nicole Kidman) reactions to her sister Pauline's (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) life choices.
Mainly because of Margot's sadistic need to turn Pauline's marital problems into a successful short story, the two sisters have been ignoring each other for the past several years. Pauline's intentions to dive into a second marriage with artist/deadbeat Malcolm (Jack Black) become the unexpected grounds for their reunion.
Along for the ride is Margot's son Claude, an overt and maybe too unapologetic mama's boy. At first, all of the arguments and bitterness between Pauline and Margot seem to be happily left in the past. So comfortable with Margot is Pauline, that she decides to tell her before anybody else that she is pregnant. Margot tries to force a smile that isn't laden with falseness and then promptly tells Claude who then tells Pauline's daughter Ingrid. And this is only the beginning of Margot's "unintentional" viciousness.
As stated before, Noah Baumbach is something of a family dysfunction guru. His films get away with showing the most extreme versions of discordant family relationships. His focus on this particular theme began to pronounce itself more heavily in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The father-son relationship between Steve (Bill Murray) and Ned (Owen Wilson) is an acute glance at the ceaseless approval seeking of a son, regardless of age.
In Margot at the Wedding, the rapport and unspoken rivalry between most sisters is eerily on the mark. While it is clearly heightened for the dramatic purposes of the film, the emotions and exchanges that exist in Margot and Pauline's relationship puts this effort by Noah Baumbach firmly on par with his previous character-driven stories.