Magazine article Screen International

Margaret

Magazine article Screen International

Margaret

Article excerpt

Dir: Kenneth Lonergan. US. 2011. 149mins

When its lead character speaks of "a jumbled mass of conflicting impulses," she easily could be talking about writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's sophomore effort, a lurching drama in which various coming-of-age incidents and more conventional familial friction get pressed up against an ethical dilemma that spawns an unusual wrongful death civil suit.

Paquin brings a firecracker intensity to her role, ably conveying the rubbed-raw surface nature of teenagedom.

More than a bit manic, Margaret is a film with as much distinct, wide-eyed personality as it has little focus. Not built for traditional catharsis or even really emotional engagement, it plays out as a string of thematically related acting scene exercises, and as such is a movie likely to be misunderstood by the few that don't dismiss it outright.

After his striking 2000 debut You Can Count On Me, playwright turned filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan was a hot commodity, as indicated by the notable cast of his follow-up. Produced by Hollywood heavyweights (including Scott Rudin, and the late Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack), Margaret shot in 2005 but ran into difficulties in the editing room, where Lonergan struggled to find a cut with which he was happy; various lawsuits between production companies ensued, further condemning the movie to a life of ignominy. Screened minimally and quietly for critics, Margaret opened on a small handful of screens in New York and Los Angeles, and seems all but certain to be swallowed up by obscurity, both theatrically and in ancillary markets.

Set in New York City, the film centers on Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), a precocious private school student with a characteristic teenage affinity for shortcuts and self-absorption. Lisa lives on the Upper West Side, with her mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), a Broadway actress, and her younger brother; her dad Karl (Lonergan) is a telephonic presence in her life, calling in from the sunny West Coast.

Lisa's life changes, however, when she inadvertently distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), who then plows through a red light and kills a pedestrian. After a period of reflection, Lisa becomes convinced that the driver deserves some sort of judgment, so she reaches out to the victim's best friend, Emily (Jeannie Berlin). Together, the pair goes about setting the wheels in motion for a wrongful death suit. The normal coming-of-age trajectory of Lisa's life, meanwhile, suffers fits and spasms as a result of the incident.

Lonergan is a gifted writer, and his film (its title is a poetic reference) occasionally howls with an energy and pain that palpably summons the tangled emotions of adolescence. …

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