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2011 | 149 min | R | 1.85:1



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Theatrical release date

 30 September, 2011
 02 December, 2011

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Margaret Blu-ray

Margaret Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 22, 2012

Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret” is a disaster, though one that contains its fair share of haunting moments and informed performances. Considering all the struggles the production has endured to even see a limited release, it’s amazing the feature is coherent at all. However, underneath the blindfolded editing, piercing performances, and wandering plot, there’s a great deal of substance to “Margaret” that’s either been completely disfigured or defanged, rendering the effort more of a fascinating curiosity than an ideally defined exploration of guilt and growing pains. It’s far from perfect, but hey, I’m just happy it’s finally available for viewing in some form.

A bratty teen from a broken home, Lisa (Anna Paquin) is a handful of neuroses, coldly rebuking those closest to her with a poisonous display of adolescent dismissiveness, including actress mother Joan (J. Cameron-Smith). While walking the streets one afternoon, Lisa innocently distracts bus driver Maretti (Mark Ruffalo), who runs a red light and kills a pedestrian (Allison Janney). Lying to investigators about Maretti’s guilt, Lisa soon finds herself consumed with remorse, accelerating her maturation as a way to deal with her mistake. Befriending Emily (Jeannie Berlin), the dead woman’s companion, Lisa changes her story and pushes for a lawsuit, hoping to make Maretti pay for his crimes while protecting her fragile conscience, avoiding true responsibility for the incident.

Although “Margaret” is technically a new release, the picture was shot back in 2005, hence all the flip phones, movie marquees advertising the release of “Serenity,” and open contempt for George W. Bush. Lonergan, who last directed the masterful “You Can Count on Me” in 2000, decided on a nuanced psychological epic for his long awaited follow-up, but those plans were quickly tied up in lawsuits and assorted post-production woes, with Lonergan eventually removed from the creative process, subjecting “Margaret” to a host of mystery editors and opinions over the intervening years. The feature now being released keeps to a tight contractual running time (150 minutes), but little else remains as obsessively monitored, with haphazard editing and a general atmosphere of randomness pervading the viewing experience.

“Margaret” is largely indescribable, which comes to be a great asset to a feature this disorganized. Ostensibly, this is the story of Lisa’s self-destructive struggle with the pain she’s caused the bus accident victim and her close friends, yet the story spiders out to Joan’s professional insecurities, toxic relationship with her vulgar daughter, and her tentative romance with an opinionated fan (Jean Reno). We also meet Lisa’s concerned math teacher Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon), her exasperated literary instructor Mr. Van Tassel (Matthew Broderick), and a slimy older boy named Paul (Kiernan Culkin), who pushes drugs on Lisa and accepts an invitation to take her virginity. There’s also trauma with Emily, who feeds off Lisa’s manic behavior and marches forward with a lawsuit against Marietti, himself a fringe figure of manslaughter protected by the bus company, much to Lisa’s spastic disgust. The teen’s father (played by Lonergan) is also in the mix, positioned oceanside on the west coast to the bewilderment of the sophisticated New Yorkers.

“Margaret” is an overstuffed effort that bites off more than it can chew, yet Lonergan’s screenwriting continually serves up fresh moments of idiosyncratic response to hold the viewer’s attention, keeping Lisa a startling character capable of despicable juvenile behavior (she’s big on humiliation and unscheduled launches of intellectualism) and insightful teen vulnerability. Portrayed with infuriating rawness by Paquin, the performance is filled with mistakes and aggressive indication, yet somehow manages to feel true to the character’s fogged headspace and mismanaged arrogance. Lisa’s a cracked egg hitting a hot buttered skillet, sizzling with emotion while splattering her venom on anyone daring to step near. She’s a polarizing figure, but someone who represents the tone of “Margaret” superbly, never quite achieving the sense of nobility she thinks she’s earned. Lisa’s an original creation, but one used as a scattergun, with leaps in logic that allow the filmmaker clunky opportunities to visit corners of the story without ever tying things together, losing impact as the movie moves episodically from scene to scene.

Despite obvious and repetitious cutaways (again, the editing is atrocious), half-realized supporting characters and revelations (Lisa admits to an abortion, though the picture never establishes her pregnancy), long-winded post-9/11 classroom debates on world affairs, and a fumbled theme of opera as an exhaustive extractor of naked, disorienting emotion (causing Joan to fear and Lisa to melt), “Margaret” somehow holds attention. Lonergan is excellent at building this frayed world, doling out specific character beats and arranging connections. The theatrical cut mangles the script’s architecture, but the contaminated air remains, creating a stilted Todd Solondz-like impression of dysfunction, sexuality, and accusation. If Lonergan was aiming for a dignified examination of Lisa’s implosion, the current version of the film skates right on by that intent. What’s here is borderline camp at times, intermittently revealing a promise of brilliance perhaps left behind for good in 2005.

Starring: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, J. Smith-Cameron, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno
Director: Kenneth Lonergan

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