Margaret

Review by Ashley Clark @_Ash_Clark

Directed by

Kenneth Lonergan

Starring

Anna Paquin Mark Ruffalo Matt Damon

Anticipation.

Lonergan's follow-up to 2000’s excellent debut You Can Count On Me finished filming six years ago. Will this be worth the long wait?

Enjoyment.

Flabby, unfocused narrative frustrates and unlikeable central character grates, but ideas and scenes spark along the way.

In Retrospect.

Haunting and thought-provoking despite flaws; an important post-9/11 movie with its own troubled mythology.

Anna Paquin is on career-best form in this important post-9/11 movie with its own troubled mythology.

In Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret it’s that old symbol of the American West – the cowboy hat – which acts as the MacGuffin in a sprawling, frustrating and thematically rich slice of post-9/11, Bush-era self-analysis set in the heart of New York City.

Spoiled 17-year old Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) is walking down a busy street when she distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) who’s wearing the kind of cowboy hat she wants to get her hands on. The gruesomely rendered ensuing crash results in the death of a woman and sparks Lisa’s rather hateful odyssey to bring the bus driver down and, presumably, assuage her own guilt in the process.

Now, there are flawed characters, and then there’s Lisa; it’s a brave move from Lonergan to build an entire (and very long) movie around someone so determinedly unlikeable. Taking teenage angst and hormonal impulsivity to extreme levels, Lisa buccaneers through the film emanating a stench of entitlement and behaving appallingly to almost everybody she encounters, including a Syrian classmate in a heated discussion about Middle Eastern culture.

Margaret is bursting at the seams with themes – family, artistic ambition, class, race, America’s litigious culture – and is novelistic in approach, recalling the work of Jonathan Franzen and Don DeLillo. Too many scenes, however, simply peter out as a result of sloppy editing or linger in thrall to verbose indulgence (sometimes Lisa feels like a Clerks-era Kevin Smith character). A subplot featuring Jean Reno as a smooth-yet-dull love interest for Lisa’s actor mother is extraneous and distracting.

Despite some brilliant individual moments (in particular the opening sequence and the stimulating classroom scenes) and strong performances from a large cast playing largely unsympathetic characters, Margaret drags as ideas overwhelm the narrative. Lonergan struggled for years through lawsuits and re-edits to get the film – which wrapped in 2005 – released. The ragged end result appropriately reflects its troubled genesis.

Published 2 Dec 2011

Anticipation.

Lonergan's follow-up to 2000’s excellent debut You Can Count On Me finished filming six years ago. Will this be worth the long wait?

Enjoyment.

Flabby, unfocused narrative frustrates and unlikeable central character grates, but ideas and scenes spark along the way.

In Retrospect.

Haunting and thought-provoking despite flaws; an important post-9/11 movie with its own troubled mythology.

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