There's a moment when Kidman's and Leigh's characters reference a relative's youthful sexual abuse then erupt in inappropriate laughter. It's shocking, yet it seems just right, because that kind of gallows humor is typically a survivor's closely held secret weapon.
Kidman's chilly, defensive sexpot owns the title, but Leigh's Pauline is the movie's emotional ballast. Playing closer to her offscreen personality (or so Baumbach says), Leigh is a one-generation-late hippie chick who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt no matter how many times they've failed to return that favor. The story line and dialogue's excoriating peak occurs when Pauline is finally driven past endurance, howling well-earned abuse at the monster sister who's undercut her entire life. Leigh wails on 2007's most satisfying screen rant. If Baumbach wrote it for her, the favor is returned threefold. Who else could pull off its full, verbose fury and make sense of the story's refusal to fade out afterwards?
Leigh's major performances have always been the kind that people deem difficult: they're knotty, uncuddly, indelible. This is the rare movie whose scripted complexities are equal to those she brings to it.
MARGOT AT THE WEDDING
Opens Wed/21 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com