PLOT: A teenaged girl, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) indirectly contributes to a bus accident, which claims the life of a woman (Alison Janney) who dies in her arms. Feeling guilty for her role in the accident, Lisa tries to get some justice for the victim by going after the bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) whose negligence is ultimately to blame.
REVIEW: MARGARET is a film I honestly never thought would see the light-of-day. Shot way back in 2005, MAGRET has sat on the shelf for years while writer-director Kenneth Lonergan tried to find the film after reportedly shooting around 300 pages of script. Since then, rumors have flown about Lonergan either abandoning or being fired from the film after his three-hour cut violated his final cut agreement (which stipulated the film had to be less than two hours). Searchlight, not wanting to jeopardize their rep of being a studio that valued creative freedom, seemed reluctant to take the film away from Lonergan, leading to a flurry of lawsuits- during which two of the film’s producers, Anthony Minghella, and Sydney Pollack, passed away. In the end, none other than Martin Scorsese- with ace editor Thelma Schoonmaker in tow, came along to finish cutting the film, resulting in the 150 minute cut that’s now in theaters.
Considering the troubled history of the film, I assumed MARGARET would be a disaster, but it’s not. It’s actually a very decent film, albeit it one that’s extremely unfocused, and more than a little pretentious- giving what should have been an intimate, character-driven story, an overblown scope. I suppose Lonergan was trying to make his own version of an Ingmar Bergman film- updated to reflect post 9/11 New York, but alas, it doesn’t quite work- although, one wonders if his three hour cut might have been better.
I find this a bit unlikely, as at 150 minutes, MARGARET is already quite lengthy, and sitting through it at this length is already a trial at times. There are at least four or five subplots that could have been cut from the film, and while the trailers and posters never reveal this, MARGARET is at least as much concerned with the life of MARGARET’s actress mother (played by Lonergan’s wife J. Smith-Cameron), who struggles to juggle her career with her daughter’s increasing neurosis. Meanwhile, the mother also starts a relationship with a cultured Colombian businessman played by Jean Reno (in a phenomenal, but ultimately superfluous performance). A lot of the stuff involving the mother could have been trimmed without undercutting the film too much, as could a whole subplot featuring Lonergan himself as Paquin’s father- which was probably a bad idea on Lonergan’s part, as his role, coupled with the editing room horror stories, makes it seem like his ego really ran amok.
Highly-billed Matt Damon also has a part as Paquin’s inappropriately amorous teacher than could, and should have been cut, with it feeling like something left over from another film.. However, having Damon and Paquin in the movie actually dates MARGARET more than anything else, with Damon looking significantly younger here, and Paquin barely resembling her new ultra-sexy blonde-bombshell alter-ego- Sookie Sackhouse from TRUE BLOOD.
In the lead, Paquin is good, although even back in ’05, Paquin was a bit old to be playing a seventeen year-old. However, she does put in a powerful performance as the highly neurotic Lisa- who, to Lonergan’s credit, is not always presented as a likable figure. There’s a juicy scene late in the film where she’s given a great dressing down by Jeannie Berlin’s character, who plays the late-Janney’s life-long best friend, which is one of the best sequences in the film.
Indeed, Lonergan, while obviously having some major problems in the editing room, has managed to craft a film’s that’s at least occasionally excellent, with the bus crash sequence in particular, making for a stunning set-piece, and containing a wrenching (and brief) performance from Janney. Mark Ruffalo, despite only having two big scenes, also makes a strong impression as the negligent bus driver, although I take issue with the fact that Paquin’s character tries to make him a scape-goat for something she was at least partially responsible for.
In the end, MARGARET is a fascinating, albeit highly compromised film. It’s hard to say whether Lonergan could have eventually made MARGARET into the major work he intended. Perhaps one day Lonergan’s original cut will see the light of day, but as this “almost-finished” version took six years to see the light of day, I doubt we’ll be seeing it anytime soon.
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|Extra Tidbit:||At one point Paquin passes a movie theater advertising SERENTIY and FLIGHT PLAN. Yup, this was shot A WHILE ago.|