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A truly heart wrenching story, "Margaret" reiterates Kenneth Lonergan's gifts for dialogue, story, and his ability to treat the most dramatic themes with artful humor, awareness and perception. The acting is exceptional; even relatively small parts, (played by actors such as Matthew Broderick, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, and Allison Janey) showcase both the actors' own remarkable abilities as well as Lonergan's attention to detail. It is Matthew Broderick's character who is the only one to utter the movie's title as he recites a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. J. Smith Cameron and Anna Paquin, who play mother and daughter, both deliver fierce performances which form the relationship that serves as the backbone of the film. Taking on issues from abortion, divorce, and death to the inherent isolation of being human, the movie has a life and humor to it which cannot be brought down by the weightiness of these issues.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With the A-list cast, it is incredible that no one noticed that this
film makes very little sense.
There is so much wrong with it, it is hard to begin. Scenes run on and on without advancing the story. Scenes are cut without reason. This film is badly in need of editing. Margaret is a very long movie with very little story to tell.
The story wanders everywhere. It is essentially a story about a 17-year- old woman, Lisa Cohen, who is partly responsible for the death of a pedestrian in New York City. The heroine, played by Anna Paquin, is annoying from the beginning when she is caught cheating on her math exam by her teacher, played by Matt Damon. He indulges her belief that she is entitled to do so.
Later that day she distracts a bus driver, played by Mark Ruffalo, in order to find out where he bought his cowboy hat. Instead of watching where he is going, the driver kills a woman in the crosswalk. The woman dies in Lisa's arms. She lies to the investigating officer at the scene and reports that the bus had the green light. She later experiences the discomfort of guilt.
The rest of the film involved this young woman making a nuisance of herself to pretty much everyone she meets. She changes her story. She wants to meet the family of everyone involved in the tragic death. She wants the bus driver fired. She wants to move to California to live with her father. She has sex for the first time without really knowing her partner. She tries to have sex with her teacher at school. She argues with everyone.
Jean Reno adds contrast to the ensemble. He plays a nice, interesting man who injects a little reason and depth to the story, so you know he has to die unexpectedly so that there are no agreeable people left in story.
The script is about unhappy, ethically-challenged, unpleasant people bickering about morality, about Israel and Palestine, about whatever, and then there is psychobabble. These people go after each other at the slightest provocation.
At some point, a civil lawyer is retained. The lawsuit makes no sense. The involvement of the heroine, who was partly responsible for the death, in every aspect of the suit goes beyond incredible. The beneficiaries of the suit lie about how much they liked the dead woman. The lawyer encourages this. There are speeches about morality made by people aren't very moral.
It is a long, long movie that makes you wish you were hit by the bus instead.
On the day of its cinema release, Kenneth Lonergan's long-gestating
drama was the most successful film in the UK. Problem was, it only
opened on one screen. The story of Margaret's production is likely a
fascinating story in itself, not least because of Martin Scorsese and
Thelma Schoonmaker's input into the final edit, which was presumably a
return favour for Lonergan's work on the screenplay for Gangs of New
York. But I'll focus on the fascinating story that Lonergan has told
with this film.
Ostensibly the tale centres on a New York schoolgirl named Lisa (Anna Paquin, defining her young adulthood just as she defined herself in childhood with The Piano), who inadvertently causes a fatal road accident. What follows is the emotional aftermath, fought outwardly with her mother, as a moral and ethical war wages within her hormone-ravaged body.
The performances are excellent throughout, particularly Paquin and J. Smith-Cameron as the daughter and mother caught in gravitational flux. Jean Reno gives fine support as the sad-sack Ramon, while Matthew Broderick delivers the poem (by Gerard Manley Hopkins) that provides the film's title, while suggesting the entire life of his character by the way he eats a sandwich. It's that kind of film.
I recently wrote a review of Winter's Bone, which I described as an anti-youth movie. Margaret could be a companion piece in this regard, cautioning against the bright-eyed naivety of youthful independence, and promoting the importance of family. Like Winter's Ree, Lisa is a lost soul; unlike Ree, Lisa is not someone we admire. But she is always in focus; Lonergan expects not for us to like her, only to understand her. In maintaining this focus, Lonergan himself achieves the admirable: weaving a narrative whose minute details and labyrinthine arguments mirror the broader existential vista against which they are dwarfed.
Margaret goes deeper than Winter's Bone, delivering something pleasingly unexpected: a kind of Sartrean modern fable about the isolating nature of subjectivity. Like her actor mother on the stage, and like us all in our semi-waking lives, Lisa is the main player in her great opera. She performs the social functions that enable her to cling to a sense of belongingness, but something gnaws at her soul. And when, after the accident, she seeks some kind of meaning, she is met at once by indifference, before being seduced by those very institutions that make indifference normal. Nothing in the material world satisfies Lisa; nothing can match her aspirations. The suggestion here, I feel, is that our despair emerges from the disparity between that which we hope for and that which reality can deliver.
No wonder it took so long to find its way to a single UK screen: a three-hour existentialist play is a tough sell. Ten years after the towers sank to Ground Zero, Margaret joins There Will Be Blood, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, and (for some) Zodiac in the pantheon of modern classics that map the American psyche in the post-9/11 world.
MARGARET is and has been a troubled movie - sophisticated examination
of one girl's post- traumatic transformation as part of a larger point
about how one's notion of importance is dwarfed by the larger
worldview. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan and shot in 2005 as
a three-hour film, the movie has remained on the shelves since its
completion in 2007 over legal problems and finally is available for
viewing in a 150-minute version. Though it has flaws it contains some
of the most sophisticated dialogue and philosophical points about where
we are in our society today that the editing glitches become secondary
background noise in a compelling film. The title (no one in the film is
named Margaret) references the Gerald Manley Hopkins poem 'Spring and
Fall: to a young child' which is quoted at the top of this review.
MARGARET focuses on a 17-year-old New York City high-school student Lisa (Anna Paquin) who feels certain that she inadvertently played a role in a traffic accident that has claimed a woman's life, Monica (Allison Janney): Lisa was chasing a bus whose driver Maretti (Mark Ruffalo) ran a red light because of Lisa's distraction trying to discover where the Maretti bought his cowboy hat. Monica dies in Lisa's arms while asking for her daughter also named Lisa (we later learn Monica's daughter died at age 12 from leukemia). Lisa at first feels sorry for Maretti, thinking that if she tells the truth Maretti will loose his job and his family support. Lisa's actress mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) encourages her to not give accurate testimony to the police, a decision Lisa follows and spends the rest of the film regretting, and in making attempts to set things right she meets with opposition at every step. Torn apart with frustration, she begins emotionally brutalizing her family, her friends, her teachers, and most of all, herself. She has been confronted quite unexpectedly with a basic truth: that her youthful ideals are on a collision course against the realities and compromises of the adult world.
The world that Lisa occupies includes teachers - played by Matt Damon (who crosses a forbidden line when Lisa seeks his advice as the only truly adult man she knows, Matthew Broderick whose class discussions over literature are brittle and acerbic and deeply disturbing - her introduction to adolescent needs and physical incidents at the hands of John Gallagher, Jr. (now of The Newsroom fame), Paul (Kieran Culkin) - her relationship with her needy single mother Joan whose newly dating Ramon (Jean Reno), her contact with the deceased's friend Emily (Jeannie Berlin - brilliant), and the deceased's only family - all in an attempt to somehow set things right but Lisa admitting that she is as responsible for Monica's death as is Maretti. But the world outside can't cope with anything but financial compensation as the resolution to Lisa's angst.
There are many other characters brought to life by some VERY fine actors and the stunning musical score by Nico Muhly includes moments at the Metropolitan Opera where we actually get to see and hear Christine Goerke as Bellini's Norma singing 'Casta Diva' and Renée Fleming and Susan Graham singing the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman, allowing the opening and closing of the film to be accompanied by a quiet guitar piece, as well as proving Muhly's very highly accomplished music to underscore the moods of the film. The cinematography by Ryszard Lenczewski underlines the tension - form the imagery of slow motion crowd movement in New York during the opening sequences to the stabilization of important encounters between the characters. A lot is said and screamed and the level of communication and actions by Anna Paquin's Lisa alienate the audience at times, but the film makes some very solid statements about how we are acidly interacting or not connecting in our current state of society. That deserves attention. The film requires a lot form the audience, but in this viewer's mind it is well worth the time.
This movie showcases Lonergan's genius for dialog and his gift for articulating the human predicament. The story, centered around a girl who witnesses a horrible accident (Anna Paquin), is an operatic tour de force. Paquin a and J. Smith Cameron (her mother in the film)\ are absolutely brilliant, and the supporting cast is so strong that this movie should sweep multiple Oscars. Lonergan's pacing and tone are well suited to what is both a heartrending and funny complex drama.The sweeping grandeur of New York City comes across more realistically, and beautifully, than it has in any other recent film. So much of what makes us human is articulated in the movie that everything is real, everything is believable, and one can't help but to be moved to tears, to laughter, and back again. Margaret is a perfect follow up to Lonergan's superb first film You Can Count on Me.
For me it was more of a stressful experience than sitting and enjoying
The cast boasts Anna Paquin (of True Blood fame), Hollywood heavyweight Matt Damon, Jean Reno from Leon and Matthew Broderick. I've got a real soft spot for Broderick because of Election, and Ferris Bueller's Day Off is one of my favourite films, but even the presence of the righteous dude couldn't redeem this film for me. Mark Ruffalo is a favourite of mine too (Shutter Island, The Kids Are Alright, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Ruffalo, Damon and Broderick are scarcely in the film though.
It's really all about Lisa: a hormonal teenager who seeks to satisfy her insatiable desire for conflict and drama by pestering all of the people who were involved or affected by a horrific bus accident that she witnessed. Paquin gives a powerful and convincing performance throughout so you can't really blame her for the films failure. You can't simply blame the fact that the character is especially detestable either we've seen anti-heroes and super villains time and time again in cinema, and they can be some of the most engrossing characters to watch.
The film's problem is that it focuses entirely on this high-strung, volatile, bitchy adolescent as she goes about a mundane course of day-to-day life, seeking attention and rubbing people up the wrong way. There's no real point to all this. The conclusion resolves to say nothing more than "she's probably like this because of her age and she doesn't get along with her mum" or something.
Margaret is nothing more than a character study of a stereotypically hostile, obnoxious teenager. There's no clear controlling idea, it wallows in ambiguity and the attempts to reference Shakespeare are laughably pretentious. It's too long, entirely stressful to sit through and has no real payoff at the end.
The film is just over two and a half hours long and while it doesn't
fly on by--it doesn't slowly crawl on by either. There are a lot of
scenes that flow really really nicely into other scenes that might not
have to do with the main plot line but seem to belong in the movie all
the same. I can kind of see why the writer/director had trouble
trimming it even at two and a half hours, its hard to tell where or
what to trim since the main plot line of the movie isn't really the
point so much as all the establishing things that contribute to Lisa's
mood and state of mind as the movie progresses. (i think) If you're
reading this you probably already know the main plot line--teenage girl
Lisa causes massive bus accident resulting in a single death, and
spends the rest of the movie both breaking down emotionally and trying
to right what she feels she did wrong. (the accident is really, really
not entirely her fault, but she feels enormous guilt just the same as
she should) Anna Paquin gives an incredible performance here--i don't
just mean that Paguin's performance is really emotional (which it
is)--or that she feels like a real life teenager here (so confident in
her rightness, so prone to outbursts when her rightness isn't so right)
i mean that Paquin's performance really, pretty much completely
single-handedly holds this entire jumble together into one coherent
narrative--and for that she's almost like Kenneth Lonnigran's
equivalent to Ben Gazzara here. We follow her as she runs into all
sorts of people, and we follow her thru all of her mood swings and
somewhat pointless arguments that she picks with some of these people,
and completely well reasoned arguments that she picks with
others...she's the kind of well intentioned but guilt racked
protaginist you would expect to find in a novel or a play, or maybe a
really good ongoing TV series--but definitely not a film with a
definitive arc which is what makes her character that much more
The film really did call to mind some of John Cassavettes' films in both its rambling yet always moving forward (but never exactly straight forward) narrative and the many, many set pieces consisting of minute characters just talking....not to mention all the natrualistic scenes of Lisa just hanging out in her element. (meaning in school, with friends, arguing with her mom, etc) Movie is very very dialog heavy and yet somehow it never comes across as trying to strong-arm you into a specific point of view, at least until the last half hour or so--as its main character eventually and forcefully takes one on of her own.
This is a movie that for all of its strengths has plenty of weaknesses in it as well. For one thing I'm not sure what the heck Jean Reno is doing here exactly. I'm only slightly less curious about what the heck Matt Damon is doing here also. (was he supposed to be Lisa's moral compass? because his character doesn't really make any sense really. If there's one character who seems like he should have had more screen time it would have to be him) i'm not enitrely sure why we keep cutting back to Matthew Broderick who outside the scenes of him moderating English class debates (?!?!) doesn't seem to have much of a character to play. i'm not entirely sure the ending justified the extreme buildup--i'm also not sure how realistic that ending decision actually is either, but i'll let that go just because the movie had to have an ending. Even tho I enjoyed the constant cutting back to Lisa's mom's storyline (J Smith Cameron is pretty good here too i should point out)--i'm not even sure all of that was necessary to tell Lisa's story so thoroughly--even if the relationship between the mom and the daughter i think is supposed to be the backbone of the movie...and yet with all of these questionable elements just kind of thrown on in there one on top of the other, (like they're all so tightly wound together that it would be hard to pick one off without feeling like something was missing i should add)--- the movie does remain really quite watchable right up until the end--anchored very nicely by the excellent work of Anna Paquin so really that's a feat just by itself i think. This is a film that will be overrated by some, and too easily dismissed by many others...yet this definitely is a challenging film and one that i think should make a pretty good civics lesson to some high school/college students in the years ahead--provided schools are still teaching civics in the years ahead.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Note: This review reflects the 149 minute version.
A privileged New York high school junior literally shepherds a dying woman to the other side after she's hit by a bus. The driver, distracted by the junior, Lisa (Paquin), runs a red light and flattens the woman. "Margaret" is Lisa's reconciliation of a youthful outlook to one more adult. It's a premise sounding far more promising than the result.
The title derives from the Hopkins' poem, "Spring and Fall" (1880)
"To a young child
Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving? / Leaves, like the things of man, you / With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? / Ah! as the heart grows older / It will come to such sights colder. . ."
A talented filmmaker, Mr. Lonergan crafted "You Can Count On Me," a sharply observed tale of two siblings in crisis. He also wrote the entertaining yet trivial "Analyze This," "Analyze That," and the disappointing "Gangs of New York." "Margaret" is an attempt to thumb his nose at those trivialities. Instead, he rubs intellectual snobbery and pretense into the audience's nose; the attempt at drawing parallels between Lisa's quest and world politics arrives at the table still raw and is uncomfortably didactic.
Some reviewers crowed, "Masterpiece! Masterpiece!" ("The New York Times" printed a feature article about "Margaret.") A troubled history and abysmal box office are the counterpoints. While at times masterful and somewhat intriguing, "Margaret" is, at its gooey center, an overlong meander with a theme cobbed from a poem. One wonders what the 36 additional minutes in Lonergan's cut (for an astonishing, snoozy 185 minutes) add to this already plodding misfire.
The completion of this film has been the subject of a few lawsuits. The legal wrangling led to a film wrested from Lonergan's hands to be edited by Schoonmaker and Scorcese. Fear not, Masochists. The DVD features both cuts.
Wasted! Wasted! Wasted! Broderick, Damon, Reno, Ruffalo, Janney (particularly the wonderful Janney - the accident victim). The hapless characters could easily have been handled by lesser-knowns for the material is far too shallow for the combined star power. Adding insult, Lonergan wrote himself in as the divorced dad living on the left coast. His scenes are beyond expendable.
Paquin does fine, yet, at 24, she's long-in-the-tooth to be believable as a 17 year old (at first glance she appears passable as a college junior). There are fireworks between Lisa and her mother, an excellent J. Smith-Cameron. However, they become shrill and muddied through repetition.
This script was in process for many years (and exhibits the associated constipation).
There's an unspoken trust between filmmaker and audience. The expectation is the story has clarity and a through-line to reward we popcorn munchers in the dark. Mr. Lonergan broke the trust through reversal by expecting the audience to help him understand "Margaret." If this is where Lonergan is headed as a Director, authoring "Analyze The Other Thing" should be the next entry on his resume.
Margaret is a well written coming of age drama, but the protagonist is not a sympathetic character, which is going to alienate a lot of the audience right off the bat. The girl behind me as I left the theater didn't like it, telling her friend, "I just couldn't stand Anna Paquin's character." The screenplay is deft at shorthanding idiosyncratic, complicated personalities with naturalistic dialogue. It also helps that every role in the film, including almost every minor part, is cast with a top notch actor. But for all the big Hollywood names, my props go to J. Smith-Cameron for a theater-grade performance scaled down to fit the intimacy of a close up shot. The movie explores the milieu of affluent teenagers attending an upscale school in New York City, and one of the other reviewers here is right in saying it resembles a French film in that it takes an mature approach to depicting adolescents, showing them as smart, complicated, sexual, uncertain. Most mainstream reviewers seem puzzled as to what they should think about it. I think it's over their heads, the elliptical, dialogue heavy, character driven narrative style, as well as the lack of an easy, simple take-away moral, seems to have befuddled them. Maybe we should rope in some theater critics' opinions instead.
"Margaret" is an absolute masterpiece. It's thematically going for the
tone of a grandiose opera, but in a modern day context, filtered
through the emotions of a teenage girl in association with a tragedy.
It expresses the emotional teenage mind-set like no other.
Every performance is astounding and every character it so compelling and fully-realized. I would compare it to the likes of "Requiem for a Dream," "Magnolia," "There Will Be Blood," "Synecdoche, New York," "The Tree of Life," and other movies that tell sprawling emotional melodramas that just hook you in and don't let you go. If you're into that kind of thing, this is for you.
There's no doubt in my mind that if this movie hadn't been tangled up in lawsuits years ago, it would have been a huge Oscar contender and Anna Paquin surely would be winning tons of awards for her performance. It's such a shame that a movie of this size and scope was overlooked.
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