Margaret * * * *

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Director: Kenneth Lonergan.
Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan.
Starring: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, J. Cameron-Smith, Jean Reno, Matthew Broderick, Jeannie Berlin, Allison Janney, Keiran Culkin, Kenneth Lonergan, Olivia Thirlby, Michael Ealy, Hina Abdullah, Enid Graham, Rosemarie DeWitt, Adam Rose.

Margaret marks the second feature of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan after his Oscar nominated debut “You Can Count On Me“. It was actually made about five or six years ago but took a while to gain a release as there was a series of law-suits involved in the editing process. It boasts both Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack as producers – the two of which passed away before the film even seen the light of day. After all the legal wranglings were ironed out, the theatrical version released was supposedly edited by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker and despite some apparent structural flaws, this still comes out as a very emotional and interesting drama.

Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) is a 17-year-old high-school student who, one day, distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), resulting in the death a woman crossing the street. Through time, this tragic accident eats away at her and through her frustration and sense of guilt she begins to emotionally brutalise everyone around her, unaware that she’s harming herself even more so.

This is a film that has, without a doubt, a sense of realism. Even, at times, uncomfortably so but that’s credit to writer/director Lonergan and an exceptionally good cast. Everyone, no matter how small a role, really bring something to the table here but ultimately the film rests in the hands of Paquin. I’ve never been entirely convinced by her before but she delivers a heartfelt and desperate performance here. Her precociousness, coldness and occasional fits of emotional rage are highly destructive. This is essentially a right-of-passage tale but it can sometimes be a harrowing one, in what seems like a complete meltdown from the protagonist. Her motivations are never entirely clear and Lonergan refuses to spoon-feed us the answers either. This could be viewed as an exploration of teenage angst and the awkward progression to adulthood or even youthful idealism in the face of a very complex adult world. It could even be a commentary on the loneliness and need for belonging in a dense and detached society. There are regular slow and protracted shots of New York as a vast and vibrant city but also full of emptiness and lonely disengaged people – Lisa embodying this very detachment. Almost (if not) all of the characters in this film have difficulty connecting with people in one way or another. Everyone seems to be searching to belong somewhere. That being said, the protraction causes the film to meander towards it’s conclusion and leaves many questions unanswered. It’s hard to say whether this is down to the editing issues or just the style that Lonergan intended but it’s nonetheless an intriguing and thought provoking journey. It won’t appeal to everyone due to it’s deliberate pace and a 2 hr 30min running time certainly requires a level of commitment. At several times throughout the film, I even questioned whether it was just pure self-indulgent drivel or something of substance. After reflection, I decided on the latter. There is a depth here, even if I didn’t fully understand what it was.

A deep and melancholic character study that explores the themes of responsibilty, coming-of-age and an important sense of self. It can be difficult viewing due to it’s length and ambiguity but it’s still worthy of some attention.

Mark Walker

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30 Responses to “Margaret * * * *”

  1. This is one I’ve wanted to see but just haven’t made time for. Looks like I need to bump it up on my “to-watch” list.

  2. Well written review man.

  3. This doesn’t sound like something I’ll go for unless you tell me that Jean Reno has a big part in this…?

    • It’s not normally something I’d go for either Eric man but It was brought to my attention only through hearing about the legal case behind the scenes. Thought I’d give it a go and was quite surprised.

      Reno has a reasonable amount of screen time but his character is a little dull to be honest. If your thinking of watching it just for him, then don’t. ;-)

  4. Nice review. I remember when this was set for a release back in 2007 and it just kept being put back. I liked this, thought Paquin’s performance was great and the theme really well explored, just found the length tough – It wasn’t engrossing enough for me to not notice how long it was taking to end.

    • 2007 you say? Aaah, I thought it was made after that. Thanks for the info. I know what you mean about the length man. It was a bit tough and apparently there’s a 3 hour cut available as well. Good film though.

      • Not sure I could cope with the three hour cut! Yeah, 2007 I think was the initial release date that was set having been filmed a year or two before that! Think there was some legal issues :/

      • Yeah, apparently it was Scorsese and his usual collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker who edited the theatrical release after a couple of lawsuits between the company that owned the rights to it. Supposedly, it took forever to be edited properly and wasn’t completed within it’s given time-frame. Hence the legal battle to recover costs.

  5. New York as operatic metaphor. Opera house stages and sets are huge and the all the singers project their voices in song to fill the void. Kinda like “Margaret”! I found it hard to care about Lisa, one way or another. She injects herself into strangers lives not to make things right or to show she cares but to wake herself and discover why she can’t really care enough. She gets more and more overwrought until shes’ finally told to butt out. The impact of her emotions affects everyone she knows. The final breakdown scene at the opera is fitting and unexplained. Kinda like Opera itself!

    • “Operatic Metaphor”! I like that Ray. Despite Opera featuring very heavily, I never vectored that in at all but I think you’re spot on.

      I didn’t care much for lisa’s character either. Quite simply, she was a little bitch and I don’t think we were supposed to like her, or even completely understand her. Teenagers eh?

      • She just wants to feel something but she’s not sure what. Her mother is the same way but at least her mother has acting. I think Lonergan’s theme is art,namely culture can save us from the apathy and ennui that modern life invokes. Maybe that’s why we love movies so much!

      • Yeah, a touch of life imitating art imitating life. The accident itself was very dramatic and seemed to give Lisa a reason to act out. Her mothers Performance on stage was always met with applause but really it was her own frustrations she was channeling. At one point, my feelings of the film echoed that of her mothers opinion of opera. (that it was all pretentious) but in hindsight, when the dust had settled I found a real depth to it all. It was great film that will unfortunately be overlooked by many I think.

  6. I heard about this on the radio during an interview w/ the filmmaker. Sounds like it’s really a tough watch, especially in regards to Janney’s character. Not sure I’m that interested in seeing it, to be honest.

    • It’s a really good film Ruth but it’s not to everyone’s taste. Basically it’s a character study of struggling teenager but there is a scene with Janney’s character that is particularly powerful. In fact, there are many powerful scenes. I wouldn’t completely ignore it though, you never know, you might like it.

  7. 2.5 hours sounds to be like it’s leaning more towards self-indulgence. It sounds like it could be interesting, but I’d need to be in the right mind-set first. Or maybe I could just watch The Avengers again instead… Helluva write-up though man. Very insightful

    • The self-indulgence you mention did come into my head at one point also but on reflection, the film does have substance. Your right though, if you tackle it make sure your ready for it. Cheers Ryan.

  8. Really want to see this, but it is way too long for this old goat!! maybe multiple sessions will be in order

    • I didn’t even realise the length of it before I watched it Scott. It was only afterwards when I checked the clock that it dawned on me that the film had been on for a while. Despite it’s length, it ticks over fairly well. I’ll await your take on it sir.

  9. Heard things on both sides of the fence for this one; like you say, pacing and runtime are definitely factors in that. I’m still curious enough to give it a shot, though. Nice one, Mark!

  10. Fantastic review, Mark! :)

  11. I definitely want to see this but I was kind of concerned about Paquin’s ability to pull off 17. She looks fairly young but still.

    • Paquin does a fine job Misty. I never entered my head that she was too old which I suppose is a big compliment. It’s a good film but a bit overlong.

      • mistylayne Says:

        Okay, good. Cause I had read several reviews where that was a big issue the plausibility of her being 17 so I’m glad to hear that. :)

      • Paquin has always looked and acted quite immature to me anyway so I thought she was a great choice here. I can’t say I’m her biggest fan but she’s really good in this.

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