Margaret * * * *
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.