Margot at the Wedding, 15

The ultimate black comedy: a family
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The Independent Culture

Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale was probably 2006's best comedy, but also its most uncompromising. A semi-autobiographical account of a teenage boy's suffering through his liberal academic parents' divorce, it portrayed a family drowning in such industrial quantities of bile and ego that it was almost inconceivable that Baumbach could go any further. But he's managed it with Margot at the Wedding. Baumbach's second film is so unsparing that there are some scenes even more shockingly intimate than the one with a naked Jack Black in it.

Margot is played by Nicole Kidman. She's a Manhattan writer, and proud of it, who travels to her childhood home with her adolescent son to attend the wedding of Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the sister she hasn't spoken to in years. The husband-to-be is Malcolm (Jack Black), a slobbish, unemployed artist who is deemed by his fiancée to be "incredibly smart, maybe too smart" because he sometimes spends an entire week composing a letter to a newspaper. The high-handed Margot has a different impression. "He's not ugly. He's just completely unattractive," she sniffs. Kidman's Mrs Coulter in The Golden Compass was Mary Poppins in comparison.

But Pauline can give as good as she gets, so the sisters' verbal fencing is an Olympic-standard exchange of insults and glancing references to their painful shared history. The fact that their duelling doesn't quite puncture their conviction that they're best friends is the kind of insightful, human touch which ensures that you can always relate to – and laugh at – Baumbach's black comedy, even if it could have been titled The Scorpion and the Scorpion. Margot at the Wedding has all the razor-sharp observations of a vintage Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, and by editing each scene down to two or three crucial lines before jumping to the next, Baumbach keeps the story racing past in an exhilarating flurry.

Just don't go along on a family outing.

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