Given that they have been seriously estranged, I find it hard to believe that Margot and Pauline so quickly fall into the kind of physical intimacy we presume they must have had in girlhood. They finish each other's sentences and lounge about intertwined, touching each other with tender caresses, one's head in the other's lap. But quickly Margot decides that Pauline needs some tough psychological love and tells her sister she shouldn't marry Malcolm. Pauline responds with the kind of snarling comments that help us understand why the sisters were out of contact for so long: they detest each other.
Though I think most people are far less direct and communicate their hostilities in sullenness more often than rage, the scenes of the sisters in verbal combat ring true enough. People certainly feel about their relatives the things that these women say to each other. Moreover, Baumbach is certainly right that some people's selfishness is almost breathtaking. Margot, we suspect, has shown up at the wedding not for the sake of her sister but to facilitate a sexual liaison with still another writer, Dick Koosman (Ciaran Hands). The picture also appears appropriately concerned that the unresolved issues Margot and Pauline have with each other and with their unhealthy rearing may well be poisoning the emotional health of their children. Ingrid is a beautiful child, but she seems almost inert. Claude seems developmentally stunted. He still wants to sleep with his mother.
But at times we wonder if Baumbach didn't come to this project with inadequate material to flesh out an entire feature. The filmmaker thoroughly overworks a metaphor about the tree in the backyard. The tree presumably represents the family's roots. But it's close to patently ridiculous that Pauline could dare Margot into climbing the tree even if we get the point that Margot's ego demands she stand on the highest branch. The surly neighbors (who appear to have moved here from Deliverance) want the tree cut down for reasons that make not one lick of sense outside Symboland. And, of course, it's sad-sack Malcolm's lot to land the task of putting chainsaw to wood.
But the tree metaphor, with its discussion of whether its roots are diseased or healthy, is at least connected to the relationship story. Other scenes are not. We haven't a clue why Dick viciously decides to humiliate Margot at a public interview. We don't begin to know what to make of the Deliverance crew. Why are they butchering a pig in their bathtub? Why are they throwing refuse into Pauline's back yard? Why does their teenage son suddenly attack Claude? And then there's a climactic betrayal involving a character we've barely met. It's all very, very sloppy. A screenplay Oscar nominee for The Squid and the Whale, Baumbach is obviously loaded with talent. But somebody should have required a rewrite this time.