Full Review Available on The Morton Report as: DVD Review: Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret (2011)

After two Best Original Screenplay Oscar nominations (for 2000’s You Can Count On Me and 2002’s Gangs of New York), Kennieth Lonergan’s highly anticipated second directorial effort – his debut was You Can Count On Me – went into production in 2005. With a cast including Oscar winners Anna Paquin and Matt Damon, as well as Oscar nomineees Jeannie Berlin and Mark Ruffalo, the potential for Margaret seemed limitless.

Fast foward six years, including many hours of re-editing, later, and Margaret was dumped unceremoniously onto a limited number of screens. With zero promotion, the movie grossed almost nothing at all. Now it’s out as a Blu-ray/DVD combo and will hopefully find a wider audience. But I must say upfront, I have so far only had the opportunity to screen a promotional DVD that contains the theatrically released 150 minute cut of the movie. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack includes an extended cut that runs over three hours, and once I have a chance to see that version I plan to provide review updates.

Joel Lovell wrote a detailed account of the film’s troubled post-production history for the New York Times, and I highly encourage those who are interested to read it here. Basically, there were running time restrictions imposed by the distributor and Lonergan and other editors – including no less than Martin Scorsese – worked to try and come up with something deemed acceptable.

Here is a short excerpt from my Morton Report review of the thearical cut of Margaret:

Margaret offers searing emotion, bolstered by exceptional performances by Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, and Jeannie Berlin. Weighty themes are thoughtfully explored throughout the film’s two and a half hour running time, including guilt, teenage angst, parenting, and anti-Semitism. But there is one big caveat. Apparently resulting from the labored editing process, many scenes are choppy, seemingly ending too soon. Loose ends are left untied by the film’s conclusion, which is somewhat unsatisfying. But the journey is well worth taking, as Lonergan’s unerring ear for incisive, subtext-laden dialogue makes the story compelling.”

Click the link for a more full description of the movie’s plot. In short, it concerns Lisa (Paquin), a high school student who witnesses a truly awful accident. A woman is hit by a city bus that fails to stop for a red light, and she dies in Lisa’s arms. Intense guilt sets in as Lisa realizes she was the one who distracted the bus driver. Both she and the bus driver (Ruffalo) tell police the same lie – that the light was, in fact, green. From there on, Lisa tries to come to terms with her actions by seeking out people connected to the victim.

That may sound kind of heavy, and to be honest – it is. But it is also unmissable, loaded with knockout performances, especially by Paquin and the far lesser-known Jeannie Berlin (who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1972 for The Heartbreak Kid). Berlin plays Emily, the best friend of the deceased bus accident victim. Both Paquin and Berlin were recognized with awards from various critics associations. Lonergan’s dialogue is full of rich subtext and always pitch-perfect in its realism. This is also a story about a difficult relationship between a mother and daughter (J. Smith-Cameron is also excellent, as Lisa’s actress mother Joan). I am looking forward to seeing if the longer version fills in some of the holes that developed during the editing process. More to follow on the unjustly overlooked Margaret.

Chaz Lipp

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