Much of Leigh’s own personality, she acknowledges, was shaped in response to her older sister, a wild child who was the muse not only for Georgia but for her mother’s earlier TV film Freedom, and who is currently a drug-addiction counselor in California.
“She was a very—” Leigh begins, then pauses, struggling to describe their childhood dynamic. “I mean, who knows why, exactly, because I could point to my parents’ divorce, I don’t know, I was 2 at the time, she was 5! But she had a very, very difficult time, and she was a very emotional kid. A lot of acting out. And so I was a very good kid.”
Leigh remembers “literally going off to clean my room” when her sister freaked out. She can recall her own inner dialogue: “‘I don’t want to be that. I don’t want that attention. That’s scary.’” She laughs. “I want to act that!”
Voyeurs eager to find analogues to Baumbach’s or Leigh’s life are unlikely to find them, at least in any clear-cut way, in Margot and the Wedding. But the film does possess an intriguingly metafictional quality, an obsession with the repercussions of artists who cannibalize their families for material. It’s a theme that not only resonates with Leigh and Baumbach’s family-based films, but that also comes up in Leigh’s The Anniversary Party, in which an actress’s best friend accuses the actress’s writer husband of cruelly caricaturing his wife. (“His image of you is a possessive, fragile neurotic!” “But I am a possessive, fragile neurotic!”) In Margot at the Wedding, two of the most brutal showdowns revolve around a semiautobiographical New Yorker short story written by Margot—perhaps the first time one has been used as the proverbial gun in the first act.
“As artists, we have to answer to that all the time,” says Leigh. She’s referring to accusations of unkindness: the notion that using family experiences by definition crosses an ethical line. “Unless you’re Philip Roth and you just don’t give a fuck!” Still, taking such risks is a necessity for truly great art, she insists; it’s at the heart of the most daring films. “You have to write in a personal manner for it to mean something—to be good, I think. Even if it’s like the Coen brothers’ stuff, where it’s completely crazy, it’s still personal in some way, or it wouldn’t be brilliant. It’s just how recognizable it is.”