Margaret

2 Nov

Title: Margaret
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Kenneth Lonergan
Writer: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: 
Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, Matt Damon, Krysten Ritter, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney, Jean Reno, Olivia Thirlby, Kieran Culkin, Jeannie Berlin, John Gallagher Jr., Rosemarie DeWitt, Matt Bush
MPAA Rating: 
R, strong language, sexuality, some drug use and disturbing images
Runtime: 
150 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 
59%

 

Kenneth Lonergan is the guy responsible for You Can Count On Me, a movie released back in the year 2000 that was just stunning and that earned the man a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination, as well as one for his leading lady, Laura Linney. That film I ranked as the seventeeth best of that year for me, and every time I watch it I can’t help but fall all over in love again with the gripping performances by Ms. Linney and Mark Ruffalo. Since then he’s only written two films, the extremely ill-advised adaptation of The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, and then, in 2002, collaborating with Jay Cocks and Steve Zaillian on the screenplay for Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, which was my fifth favorite film of that particular year and which got Mr. Lonergan another Oscar nomination for his screenplay. But we all wanted the man to go back to directing since his debut film was so amazing, and then Fox Searchlight announced that he would be making a new film, Margaret, that they would release in 2007.

What came after is a pretty infamous tale of creative freedom versus the power of the studio, as the movie kept getting delayed and delayed as Mr. Lonergan couldn’t create a final cut that would please both himself and the studio, as his proposed running time clocked in at over three hours. That resulted in a few lawsuits, the studio suing the financier for not putting the money to finish production, and the financier suing the studio and Mr. Lonergan for not actually finishing even close to on time. People kept trying to help out with the editing of the film because they thought Mr. Lonergan deserved his work to be shown, the late great Sydney Pollack had a crack at it, as did Scott Rudin, but it never went forward. Until finally Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma, both of whom worked with Mr. Lonergan on Gangs of New York, came over and produced a version that both the studio and the original filmmaker agreed upon. And that’s the one we got here.

And look, while it’s really great and everything that we finally get to see Margaret, because it honestly is and I still consider Mr. Lonergan a guy with a really authentic voice, it’s just nothing compared to his debut and, when you consider how much trouble went into releasing it, you can’t see what all that fuss was really all about. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of raw emotion and certainly some very powerful ideas bristling beneath Margaret, trying to come out, but they never really do, which makes the film just totally undeserving of that huge two-and-a-half-hours running time and, what’s worse, makes it feel as though it’s just this self-important piece of work from a man who obviously thought he had something great but that actually really wasn’t, even though the potential was certainly there. That, and the fact that watching such familiar faces like Matt Damon and Anna Paquin looking like they did in 2005 and not like we know them know can feel a bit creepy at times.

I still liked a lot about Margaret, though, I mean, its sheer ambition is admirable and the scope of the themes it tackles is pretty damn big, and the fact that it does so in that nuanced sort of way that Mr. Lonergan is so good at crafting is great. The main character here is Lisa, played by Ms. Paquin, a private-school educated teenager, a girl that’s played quite well by Ms. Paquin, who gives her this nice sort of entitled and precocious vibe. Lisa will have her lived turned around as she becomes witness to a bus accident that she may have caused by distracting the driver. And so the movie will follow Lisa as she makes sense of her guilt, as she tries to figure out how it will impact her own life and her own development as a person now that’s she’s really coming of age.

And there’s some really good stuff here, I thought Ms. Paquin was very good, and Jeannie Berlin who plays the best friend of the victim is truly excellent, as are a couple of really talented character actors who appear here. But for all the good performances, and the fact that the film is this really kind of poetic and smart visualization by a guy who certainly has the talent to create some pretty compelling ideas and characters, it just felt too uncertain and unsure of itself at times. And considering Mr. Lonergan was so sure that this was his American epic, it just falls way too short of that. Maybe we needed that much longer version Mr. Lonergan wanted to give us in the first place, I doubt it’ll happen because the critical and commercial reception to this have been quite crappy, but I would like a Director’s Cut blu-ray of this, to see the real scope come to life, and not just feel as though this was a one-hundred-and-fifty minute film about the moral upbringing of an Upper East Side teenager that the filmmaker cared about more than we did.

Grade: B

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