Synopsis: MARGARET centers on a 17-year-old New York City high-school student who feels certain that she inadvertently played a role in a traffic accident that has claimed a woman’s life. In her 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.
Release Date: September 30, 2011 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Margaret is the long awaited film from Kenneth Lonergan (the screenwriter behind Gangs of New York and Analyze This). It stars Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen, a normal high school student who is going through “that phase” of teenage rebellion. She smokes, talks back to her mother and cheats on her schoolwork. One day, while out shopping, she distracts a bus driver just enough so that he misses seeing a red light and runs over a woman. The woman dies in Lisa’s arms, and while giving her statement to the police, Lisa makes eye contact with the bus driver, and, sensing what she thinks he wants her to do, she lies about the color of the traffic light when the accident occurs. Of course, she can’t help but feel at least partially responsible for the accident. After doing a lot of soul searching, talking with her mother and teachers, and meeting the dead woman’s friends and family, Lisa decides to recant her testimony and tell the police the truth, possibly costing the driver his job and freedom.
If Anna Paquin looks young in Margaret, it’s because she is; the film was shot in 2005. As writer and director of the film, Lonergan was given final cut approval, and it has taken him six years to get a version he’s happy with.
On DVDs, there’s a reason why director’s cuts are always longer than the theatrical release. The director is the visionary, and usually he or she is unwilling to cut any fat from the film. Margaret suffers from the fact that Lonergan had the last say — there is a lot of fat in the movie. The first act is great – up to and including the aftermath of the accident is first rate filmmaking, compelling and engrossing. In fact, the scene where the woman dies while Lisa holds her is one of the more powerful scenes in recent memory. The problem is that, after that point, there are two more hours of the film. Margaret wanders away from its plot, opening up subplots that never resolve and have nothing to do with the main storyline. There are also several scenes and sequences that seem like they don’t relate to the rest of the film at all, they’re just…there, stuck in the middle of the movie to pad the running time. And, at 149 minutes, Margaret‘s running time doesn’t need any padding. Interestingly enough, in the hands of a trusted editor, Margaret could be a great, tight 90 minute film, but as it is, it’s just long.
While Margaret has an interesting plot, it gets bogged down with too much fluff. Lonergan’s script is loaded with extraneous information, none of which is relevant to the central conflict of Lisa’s confusion of right and wrong. For instance, there are several scenes where Lisa and her classmates argue about Islamic faith, terrorism and Israeli-Palestinian conflict that serve no purpose except to illustrate Lisa’s immaturity and irritability. There are also several unnecessary subplots (such as one involving Lisa’s mother and a man she is dating) that go nowhere.
Lonergan’s ear for dialogue that he has exhibited in his screenplays for Gangs of New York and his award-winning You Can Count on Me are nowhere to be found in Margaret. The characters are practically interchangeable with each other, making all of them fairly stale. The experienced cast (Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick and Mark Ruffalo all have what basically amount to bit parts) does its best with the script, but in the end it just drags on.
Margaret is beautifully shot. Director of photography Ryszard Lenczewski (My Summer of Love) and Lonergan use sweeping long shots and extended takes to tell their story cinematically. The filmmakers prefer to use camera motion instead of cuts, to give each scene a more live, real feel. For example, in one scene, Lisa walks down a huge staircase, into a theater and down a row to her seat. The camera follows her, first from the front as she descends the stairs, then from behind as she passes, and finally looking over her shoulder, following her all the way to her seat. Lenczewski’s use of steadicams and tracking shots combined with panning and dollying give the film a unique feel, especially when combined with the New York City locations.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Kenneth LonerganScott Rudin
- Producer(s): Kenneth Lonergan
- Screenwriter(s): Anna Paquin (Lisa Cohen)Mark Ruffalo (Maretti)Jean Reno (Ramon)
- Story: Matt Damon (Mr. Aaron)
- Cast: Allison Janney (Monica Patterson)J. Smith Cameron (Joan)Kieran Culkin (Paul) John Gallagher Jr. (Darren)Anne McCabeRyszard LenczewskiDan Leigh
- Cinematographer: Nico Muhly
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA