It was an image of a mother and her son riding on a train sparked Noah Baumbach‘s upcoming “Margot at the Wedding” (opening this Friday, November 16th from Paramount Vantage). As Baumbach told indieWIRE during a conversation back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, that visual evolved into a script he wrote shortly after “Squid” debuted at Sundance in 2005. Interestingly, “Margot” was originally titled “Nicole in the Country,” but when Nicole Kidman joined the cast (which includes Baumbach’s real-life wife, Jennifer Jason Leigh), Baumbach feared people might think it was reality-based, so it reverted back to “Untitled Noah Bambach Project” throughout its production. “It was a real lesson not to leave a movie untitled for that long,” Baumbach admitted. “Just seeing ‘Untitled Noah Bambach’ written on everything… And of course everyone has ideas for the titles and you keep getting submissions. It was terrible.”
The film, which eventually did find a name, details the days leading up to the rural wedding of Pauline (Leigh) and Malcom (Jack Black). Pauline’s estraged sister, Margot (Kidman) arrives for the occasion with her son, Claude (newcomer Zane Pais). And what results is a remarkably dense and touching portrayal of a group of individuals slowly comfronting themselves and their relationships with each other through a series of awkward and often hysterical interactions.
The film has been heralded for both for Bambauch’s overall vision and for the complex and rewarding roles he has written for Leigh and Kidman. “It wasn’t a conscious departure in that now I’m writing women or anything like that. I just went with it,” said Baumbach. “In some ways the end result was as much a surprise to me as anyone. I really tried to just give over to this intuitive feeling that I was going with the script and it was going to become what it was going to become.”
Twelve years after “Kicking and Screaming” rocketed him into the independent film lexicon, Baumbach’s style has notably evolved. “Kicking,” an anxious look at the post-college life of four friends, certainly has inklings of “Margot” (most notably in its dialogue), but it is unquestionable that Bambauch has matured – and quite gracefully at that. “I’ve aged twelve years,” he reflects. “Its like thinking about how I was in relationships in 1995 or 1996. I was still just out of college and still figuring out a lot of stuff about myself.”
But despite the evolution, Baumbauch remains very fond of his earlier work, which included “Mr. Jealousy” in 1997. “I’ve gotten in trouble,” he explained, “When I was talking about ‘Squid’ being a breakthrough for me and a new way of working, some people said they felt I was putting down my other movies. It’s not that at all. I just feel I write better and direct better than I did. Early on in my career, I felt at times overwhelmed by influences. Now all of that stuff has seeped into me and I’m able to approach each of these movies as myself.”
Those influences remain evident in “Margot” and many have also cited Eric Rohmer in comparison. “I don’t know if “Margot” really feels Rohmer-like. I don’t know if I can tell,” he told indieWIRE. “I just love Rohmer’s characters and how all his movies are about people holding fast to their ideas of themselves against any outside evidence that maybe they aren’t like this or shouldn’t be like that. They tend to rigidly stick to their own philosphy. I connect to that personally.”
The Toronto fest marked the middle of “Margot”‘s festival journey (it screened at Telluride earlier in the month and then at the New York Film Festival earlier this month). Regarding the experiences, Baumbach admitted that part of him has evolved as well. “I think when I was younger I’d have lots of expectations for festivals and end up feeling slightly depressed afterwards because nothing was going to feel fulfilled,” he said. “Now I think I probably protect myself and don’t expect aything. I just sorta try and have a good time.”
He’s also excited for “Margot” to find its way out of the festival circuit and into theaters. “The funny thing about festivals is you go with the movie and accompany it in a way thats not representative of how its going to be. Whats nice about making movies is you hope you dont have to talk about it and that it will speak for itself.” Concluding, he added, “Once the festival stuff is over, its nice in away to let it go have its own life so I can go start something else.”