- Running time:
- 149 minutes
- Anna Paquin -
- Lisa Cohen
- J. Smith-Cameron -
- Jean Reno -
- Jeannie Berlin -
- Allison Janney -
New York teenager Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) views the world with a youthful idealism and an independent spirit inherited from her successful stage actress mother, Joan (J. Smith-Cameron). At least until Lisa’s life turns upside down after witnessing a stranger (Allison Janney) die in a bus crash that Lisa may have had a role in causing. She suddenly finds herself grappling with issues of life and death, guilt and responsibility, and seeks out the stranger’s best friend (Jeannie Berlin) to find some resolution.
The buzz: Few films can match “Margaret” for dramatic backstory. Playwright-turned-director Kenneth Lonergan’s follow-up to the contemporary classic “You Can Count On Me” was filmed way back in 2005 (a year and a half before Paquin was even cast in HBO’s now four-seasons-old “True Blood”), only to repeatedly miss scheduled release dates while Lonergan struggled to deliver a final cut. Years went by with the film locked in limbo. Two lawsuits were filed, executive producer Anthony Minghella and producer Sydney Pollack died, and editing was reportedly ultimately overseen by director Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker. Although he was apparently not directly involved, Lonergan approved the final release cut, which clocks in one minute shy of two and a half hours—the maximum running time permitted by distributor Fox Searchlight.
The verdict: It’s easy to see the years of frustration on screen in this plodding, overstuffed and fatally self-important coming of age story. Every scene betrays an artist struggling to communicate with his audience, a depressing sophomore slump after the effortless naturalism of “You Can Count On Me.” “Margaret” seems frozen in a state of awkward unreality stemming from Paquin’s wildly uneven performance in the challenging lead role, scenes that drag on and then finish abruptly, an overbearingly argumentative tone and endlessly pretentious reminders of the world around Lisa—from slow motion shots of crowded New York City streets to dialogue exchanges intercut with non-sequitur glimpses of outside activity. The film doesn’t have subplots so much as tangents, including—but hardly limited to—Lisa’s high school classes discussing literature (the film’s title comes from the poem “Spring & Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins) or debating politics (mostly the conflict between Israel and Palestine), Joan’s ongoing courtship with a romantic foreigner (Jean Reno), Lisa’s burgeoning sexuality, a painstakingly detailed lawsuit, and America’s dwindling interest in opera. Severely underutilized turns by Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick as two of Lisa’s teachers add to the running tally of offenses, but there are individual moments that pop—Janney’s essentially one-scene role as a dying woman, Berlin’s introductory monologue, Mark Ruffalo’s brief appearances as the bus driver in the pivotal accident. There’s just too little of the sharp wit, subtle wisdom and genuine feel for complicated relationships Lonergan demonstrated in his debut. Even with the carefully developed mother/daughter bond between Lisa and Joan (Smith-Cameron, Lonergan’s real-life wife, gets stuck in a would-be showcase role with nowhere to go), there’s simply no compelling hook to the story. One of the film’s Big Ideas seems to be that everyone has their own life to worry about, and part of growing up means realizing you’re not the center of the universe. But the best movies give us reason to be interested in the lives of others. “Margaret” never does.
Did you know? The New York Times covered the production of the film’s climax at the Metropolitan Opera back in 2005. “Margaret” was the first movie to shoot inside the Met since 1987’s “Moonstruck.”
Follow Metromix's Geoff Berkshire on Twitter: @geoffberkshire
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