Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)

Being one to root for the underdog, when I heard that Fox was trying to quieten publicity around a film because of a legal battle with the director, I was instantly intrigued.

Coupled with the fact that the majority of critics who have seen the film have given it five-star rave reviews, I became convinced that this was a hidden gem and moreover, a stick-it-to-the-man case in point.

Although filming finished five years ago, its limited release and complete lack of publicity has been a result of arguments with the studio.

Apparently, his failure to comply with their prescribed running time of two hours (the film is now 150 minutes) and their given budget (Lonergan was forced to borrow $1m from friend Matthew Broderick to continue working on the project) meant that Fox is now driving the film into the ground. Currently, Slant magazine’s Jaime Christley is running a petition to allow critics screenings of the film. It has 631 signatures so far.

But other than evil Rupert Murdoch, why so much love for Kenneth Lonergan? Maybe because this is his first feature in a decade, hotly anticipated after his Oscar nominated debut in 2000, You Can Count On Me.

But also because in a post-9/11 age, Lonergan attempts to make a bold statement about trauma and its aftereffects, showing insight into the New Yorker psyche, here embodied in the conflicted mind of a teenage girl.

Lisa Cohen (a pre-True Blood Anna Paquin) is angsty, rebellious, hormonal and argumentative. Wearing the tiniest mini-skirt you’ve ever seen, and smoking as if it’s sultry, Lisa flirts with her teachers (Matt Damon & Matthew Broderick), geeky boys at school, and fatally, bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), who is driven to distraction, killing a women crossing the road.

While the woman lies bleeding to death in her arms, Lisa clings to her until all the life drains from her body. Guilt-ridden and grieving, she struggles to come to terms with what’s happened.

Seventeen year old Lisa makes it her mission to find justice for the woman, opening a case against the bus company with people she befriends at the funeral service. But this mature behaviour only masks the shock she has stomached as the deeper emotional effects of the trauma lie buried.

Lashing out at her mother and her classmates, she looks for attention through dramatic outbursts and teary shouty rages.

Her overemotional and cringeworthy displays for affection dominate the drama and turn what begins as a provocative character piece into a painful and frustrating picture of adolescence where the main character’s annoying little-girl hissy fits become ugly and destructive.

Although Lonergan seems to favour chaotic scenes to comment on a society filled with blame and retribution, what he ultimately achieves is just chaotic. The overall feeling is misshapen, unsatisfying and unfinished.

At its best, the script is sweet and funny and Anna Paquin proves her acting ability in spades. However, this was less than enough to convince me that the film is more than an afterthought on the 9/11 ten-year anniversary. Maybe Fox was right about the running time, this could do with a re-edit.


2 thoughts on “Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)

  1. Like the film or not, but I’m afraid that all your background info is entirely incorrect. As one of several who worked on Margaret I am more and more amazed at the absolute assurance with which so many reviewers and bloggers have so confidently repeated chains of distorted half-facts and much more often, flat out falsehoods about the goings on over a five year post-production struggle about which they KNOW they have no first hand information.

    Limiting myself to two examples in your piece: 1) Fox is not suing Lonergan and never has. 2) Lonergan never delivered a cut to Fox that exceeded the contractual length, and has never been in breach of contract.

    I don’t mean to pick on you but you just have it so unusually wrong. You’re not alone, but it’s a bit much.

    You’re entitled to your opinion of the film of course – But what value has that opinion when it seems so clearly shaped – at least in part – by what you mistakenly think you know about conflicts and creative battles that formed the film you’ve seen? Can’t you make a couple of calls? I don’t even mean call Lonergan’s reps. Call Fox.

    If you still don’t love the film that’s your business. But why can’t more of you say, “I have NO IDEA what happened, but this is what I think of the film I saw.” Please!

    • Hi there Patrick.

      Thank you for correcting me about the suing. I read it in one magazine article (I forget which), but I have removed it now since you are a more viable source of what’s true.

      However, I’d like to think that all the news and reviews I read of Margaret in research for this piece would give me enough evidence to back up things I say about contractual length- I haven’t just been making assumptions or promoting rumour. These are big-time news organisations after all, and I kind of trust that they have done their research at least, even if I, lowly blogger, have not.

      I admit, I was unusually harsh to the film here, and I kind of feel bad about it considering so much time was spent on it and I’m so distant from a project that was obviously someone’s/many people’s filmbaby.

      But maybe you can correct me on that too- do you want to talk about this? convince me that I’m wrong.


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