The 2007 Noah Baumbach comedy–drama film ‘Margot at the Wedding’ revolves around the lives of two estranged sisters and their complicated relationship. In the lead-up to Pauline’s wedding weekend, her novelist sister, Margot, visits from New York alongside her young son, Claude. However, the pre-existing taut relationship between the sisters brews below the surface through passive-aggressive remarks as old childhood traumas are brought back to the forefront. Furthermore, Pauline’s fiance of choice, Malcolm, and his less-than-stellar attributes only add fuel to the sister’s complicated ties.
Throughout the film, Pauline’s impending wedding and its implications contribute to her and Margot’s push-and-pull dynamic, developing their relationship even if not always for the better. As their relationship takes shape through gradually shared details and real-time developments, it culminates into a chaotic breakout, leaving both women at complicated places in their lives, which may prompt a few questions among the viewers. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Margot at the Wedding Plot Synopsis
After Margot and her son, Claude, make the journey from New York to Long Island, consisting of a train and a boat ride, Pauline’s fiance, Malcolm, picks them up in his car. From the man’s lack of punctuality and ironic mustache to his unemployment and obvious fragile ego, Margot isn’t a fan of Malcolm’s from their initial meet. Yet, the woman, who is otherwise outspoken and brutally honest, says nothing to her sister.
Due to a past dispute, Margot is at a precarious place in her relationship with Pauline, and the issue continues to loom over the pair despite their efforts at feigning friendliness. Stifling life-long complications, like their childhood with an abusive father, persisting envious feelings, and deep insecurities, add to the subliminal tension between the sisters, stretching it thin.
While Pauline believes her sister to be a deeply caring person, she also recognizes her selfish streak and tendency to act out. Inversely, Margot believes that Pauline is settling for Malcolm without truly loving him because of her convoluted feelings about marriage. Her point is further proven when Pauline tells Margot about her pregnancy, which she hasn’t even shared with her fiance or Ingrid, her daughter. Likewise, Pauline begins to doubt her sister’s affection for her when she learns Margot is attending a bookstore conversation on the Friday before her wedding.
The bookstore event is supposed to help with sales and promote Margot’s latest artistic endeavor of adapting her ex, Dick Koosman’s novel, into a screenplay. The detail makes Pauline wonder if Margot truly returned to their childhood home for her sister or career. Furthermore, after Margot, Pauline, and their kids spend an afternoon at Dick’s house, Margot notes Malcolm’s intentional absence and his stolen glances at the other man’s teenage daughter, Maisy.
Moreover, Pauline realizes she was correct in assuming Margot had an adjacent motive in returning to Long Island. Nevertheless, it doesn’t turn out to be her career or her affair with Dick Koosman. Instead, the writer came to Long Island to get away from her tumultuous relationship with her husband, Jim. Unbeknownst to Claude, his parents have been having issues lately, with Margot unable to stay with Jim any longer due to his innate goodness, which only serves to remind her of her own shortcomings. The same becomes clear when Jim visits Pauline on his way to Vermont to try and reconcile with Margot.
Things take an even more drastic turn between the sisters after Claude lets the cat out of the bag after telling his cousin about Pauline’s secret pregnancy. The news doesn’t cause any complications in Pauline’s relationship with Malcolm, who is relatively pleased with the news. However, it fuels Pauline’s pre-existing issues with Margot and her astonishing penchant for betraying her sister’s trust.
Margot at The Wedding Ending: How Did Margot Betray Pauline?
Throughout the film, Margot and Pauline continue to have a nuanced relationship, highlighted by their evident contempt and care for each other in equal measures. While some of their interactions can be passed as casual sister rivalry, given their passive-aggressive tendency to embarrass and one-up each other, there’s always an added layer of tension to their dynamic. Early on, Pauline mentions feeling disappointed in her sister due to her betrayal. However, it isn’t until much later that we learn the truth behind Margot’s betrayal.
During Margot’s bookstore event before Pauline’s wedding, the author’s collaborator, Dick, brings up the level of inspiration Margot harvests for her works from her personal life. Since all of Margot’s pieces scrutinize family dynamics, with her latest book featuring a dad best described as “loathsome,” Dick inquires about the character’s basis in Margot’s own family. While the question is invasive enough on its own, it pushes the woman to the edge when Dick attempts to suggest a parallel not between the character Margot’s father but herself.
As such, after Margot insists her father was a loving man, even if it is a blatant lie, and swerves the other implication, she excuses herself, needing a moment away from prying eyes, including her son’s. During this time, Pauline keeps Claude company and divulges that Margot often writes from her experiences. However, the woman didn’t stop there and harvested inspiration from the people around her as well.
Years ago, when Pauline was married to Lenny, her now ex-husband, she confided in Margot about her relationship, only to find it printed on the pages of The New Yorker. Ultimately, the piece ended up playing a part at the end of Pauline and Lenny’s marriage alongside the couple’s pre-existing issues. Therefore, the woman always blamed her sister. Worse yet, the way Margot crafted Pauline’s thinly veiled literary likeness made the woman think her sister hated him.
Alternatively, Margot refused to take accountability for the hurt she caused her sister. Still, deep down, the matter causes deep guilt to fester inside the woman. Margot isn’t well-equipped to deal with such emotions, as she depicts in her failing relationship with Jim. Her ex’s kindness makes Margot aware of her own selfishness. Thus, she can’t stay with him. In the same vein, Pauline forever serves as a reminder of Margot’s willingness to sacrifice someone else’s trust for her own gain.
For the same reason, Pauline is surprised to see Margot arrive at her house for her wedding and looks for reasons to discredit her intentions. As such, Margot’s inability to keep Pauline’s secret and voiced disdain for her decision to marry Malcolm further proves the other woman’s theory.
Does Pauline Marry Malcolm?
Although Pauline’s upcoming wedding to Malcolm forms the film’s base premise, paving the way for the branching storylines, the woman’s relationship with Malcolm remains tumultuous. Pauline and Malcolm appear to be vastly different people on paper, with her people-pleasing wit and charm contrasted by Malcolm’s unpleasant personality. When Malcolm fails as a musician, he resorts to doubting other people’s way to fame instead of analyzing his own behavior.
As such, his talents and other plus points are only conveyed through Pauline’s insistence on their existence. Meanwhile, his shortcomings are present in his actions and words. The fact that Pauline is unwilling to share news of her pregnancy with Malcolm because she’s scared he’d want to marry her simply because he got her pregnant raises another red flag indicating a lack of trust between the couple.
Even though Pauline is a desirable woman with many things working in her favor, Malcolm provides her with safety and comfort she’s too scared to seek elsewhere. Furthermore, Pauline’s childhood under an abusive father effectively messed up her future relationships. As a result, she finds it hard to leave Malcolm, who remains an easy choice. Still, the fact that Pauline is reluctant to disclose her pregnancy news to Malcolm until the truth comes out on its own suggests the woman always considered leaving her fiance.
With Margot’s arrival, the decision becomes more logical since her sister continues to point out Malcolm’s fault, telling Pauline what she wants to hear with her brutal honesty. This way, Pauline gets to question her partner on legitimate grounds while pinning the blame on Margot. The tactic, however emotionally unhealthy, ends up bearing results, as Malcolm confesses to cheating on Pauline after she brings up Margot’s comments about him and Maisy.
Malcolm’s admission to making out with Maisy confirms his infidelity while also depicting his unsavory borderline pedophilic tendencies. Given Pauline’s previous suspicions of Malcolm’s affair or at least attraction to her 20-year-old student, the recent development makes the woman realize she can’t trust Malcolm. Although she displaces her anger on Margot, blaming her for the part she played in bringing the truth out in the open, she also leaves the house and, subsequently, Malcolm with her sister and their kids.
Afterward, the four spend the night at a hotel where Pauline establishes that she won’t tolerate it if her sister turns this incident into another bestseller. Although it seems Pauline has had enough of selling herself short on Malcolm’s behalf, the morning brings a different truth. At a diner over breakfast, Pauline calls Malcolm with unclear intentions of their point of conversation.
While Margot suggests she ask Malcolm to get out of their house and leave the man, Pauline starts to give in once Malcolm cries out his woes and begs her to stay. Previously, Pauline had mentioned how she believes at her age, women become more prone to flattery, often seeking out men’s validation. Malcolm’s display confirms he can be an endless source of validation as he’s willing to sob and blabber to convince Pauline to stay with him.
Ultimately, before Margot can see Pauline’s story with Malcolm end, her mother and sister, Becky, arrive. Margot is hellbent on avoiding the pair and uses the excuse of walking Claude to his bus stop to flee from the scene. Yet, as Pauline leaves things with Malcolm, she’s open to the idea of them getting back together. Therefore, it’s likely that Pauline goes on to continue her relationship with Malcolm, unwilling to learn any lessons.
Why Does Margot Board The Bus to Vermont?
In the end, Margot walks Claude to the bus stop with the intention of leaving the boy to travel to Vermont to be with his father without her. By now, Claude has realized that her parents are likely splitting up, even if he may not know why. However, he’s reluctant to board the bus without his mother. Claude knows her mother well enough to know she would prefer not to reunite with her family, especially when she has an inkling that her sister may return to her unpleasant fiance.
Therefore, Claude tries to stall their goodbye, but Margot manages to get him on the bus without any drama. Yet as the bus starts to drive away, Margot is stuck with a damning realization. Margot has a rocky relationship with Clause wherein she often manipulatively demeans him to hold on to her higher ground while still taking jabs at him when a situation slips out of her hand. The sunglasses she thinks are cool on Claude when he doesn’t want to wear them become unflattering when he willingly puts them on.
In that regard, Margot’s dynamic with Claude is unreflective of her abusive relationship with her father but not entirely devoid of its influence either. Nonetheless, she genuinely cares for her son and realizes the best thing for her at the moment is to stay by his side. Therefore, when she chases the bus down in a mania, it showcases her decision against self-isolation as she seeks out her son. Ultimately, Margot and Claude travel away from Long Island together just as they had traveled into the town together at the film’s start.