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Margaret (A Movie Review)



Starring Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, Mark Ruffalo, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno, Sarah Steele, John Gallagher Jr., Cyrus Hernstadt, Allison Janney, Kieran Culkin, Matt Damon, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Betsy Aidem, Adam Rose, Nick Grodin, Rosemarie DeWitt, Matthew Broderick, Olivia Thirlby, Michael Ealy, Matt Bush and Krysten Ritter.

Screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan.

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan.

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. 150 minutes. Rated R.

Back in 2000, first-time writer/director Kenneth Lonergan turned a lot of heads with You Can Count on Me, a smart and layered ensemble drama which made stars of the relatively unknown Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. A few years later, Lonergan started prepping his follow-up to that acclaimed debut.

Margaret was filmed back in 2005 but has been mired in a series of legal struggles ever since. In 2010, when we talked with Ruffalo about his then-current film The Kids Are Alright, he was asked about what was happening with the long-gestating film, in which Ruffalo played a small-but-vital role. Fans were wondering when they would be able to see it. “Buddy, you and me both,” Ruffalo said. “I don’t know what is happening with that. I keep hearing that rumblings that it is coming out any time now…. But you probably know as much about it as I do, honestly.”

Two years later, and seven years after it was filmed, Margaret was finally briefly slipped into a small theatrical run. A few months later, it is finally seeing wide release on video and on demand.

However, don’t let that the extended and difficult road to release make you think that is a sign of an inferior film. In fact, although Margaret has some flaws, it’s one of the more intriguing films of the year (2012 as well as 2005).

The story revolves around a tragic accident which occurs in New York. Lisa (a pre-True Blood resurrection Anna Paquin) is a smart but troubled high school student, daughter of a stage actress and an estranged producer husband who is now living in California with his new wife. One day while she is out shopping, she distracts a passing bus driver (Ruffalo) on a crowded street. Because he is looking at her, not the street, he runs a red light and ends up killing Monica (Allison Janney), a pedestrian crossing the street. Feeling guilty about her part in the tragedy, Lisa lies to the police that the woman crossed against the light. Later she finds she has second thoughts and wants to recant her story but is angry to find that the driver does not face any retribution.

Margaret is actually the story of Lisa. (The title Margaret does not refer to any of the characters. It is a reference to a poem being taught in Lisa’s high school English class.) It follows her day-to-day life, with family, with friends, with boys, in school, as she tries to cope with what has happened. The bus-driver is only involved in the film tangentially, even the dead woman only has one scene.

Lisa is not necessarily a very likable character. She’s self-absorbed, passive aggressive, overly emotional, self-righteous, petty, argumentative, insecure, often mean to the ones who love her the most – in short, she’s a teenaged girl. However, the way she acts is often reprehensible, and when one of the characters finally calls her on it the audience can’t help but nod in agreement.

You never quite know why Lisa is trying so hard to get the guy fired, particularly since she was as responsible as he was. She keeps saying that he should feel as much about it as she did – and yet she has no real way of knowing that he did not feel horrible about what happened. Their one meeting after the fact was without warning and a bit of a confrontation, he would have reason to be defensive. However, when she finally breaks down and explains her reasoning, it is heartbreaking, if perhaps a touch misguided.

The cold, hard fact is that it was probably just a tragic accident, despite the fact that two people unwittingly contributed to it. No matter how hard you work placing blame, it doesn’t change a thing. A woman is dead, and two people are going to have to live with the guilt for the rest of their lives.

Lonergan’s specialty is to show the ripples of these things and how a large cast of characters are directly and indirectly affected by a moment in time. It’s a fascinating story by a master filmmaker. I hope it doesn’t take another twelve years for his next film to get a release.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: July 10, 2012.

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