Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Screenwriter: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, Jean Reno, Jeannie Berlin, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Kieran Culkin, Matt Damon
Screened at: Landmark Sunshine Theater, NYC, 7/9/12
Reopens: July 10, 2012 on Blue-Ray and DVD
In an epic tale that fully deserves every one of its one hundred eighty-eight minutes, “Margaret,” filmed in 2005, tells the story of an adolescent who is emotional to the point of neurosis, a neurosis that proceeds full flower when she observes the sudden, accidental death of a middle-aged woman. Performed heroically by Anna Paquin in her best role—one that finds her or her influence in just about every scene—“Margaret” features writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s Shakespearean-like journey into a seminal event in the life of an impressionable seventeen-year-old.
The film, which has just come out on Blu-Ray DVD after an opening in select locations last September, is a thoroughly New York story, the skyline of the world’s most exciting city captured by Ryszard Lenczewki’s lenses which at times hover over Manhattan’s tall buildings and, in one extended shot, captures the flight of a commercial airline.
Like Lonergan’s most memorable previous offering, “You Can Count On Me,” “Margaret deals with the aftermath of a vehicular accident. With its obsession with opera, particularly “Norma” and “The Tales of Hoffman,” Lonergan is symbolizing the nature of his film, which comes across as cacophonous and dramatic as Faust’s descent into hell. The cast, many of whom are veterans of “You Can Count On Me,” do terrific ensemble work of the kind you’d expect on an off-Broadway stage, though Lonergan succeeds in opening up the scenes to make them cinematic.
As Lisa Cohen, Anna Paquin anchors the work as a kid on the cusp of adulthood, attending a Manhattan prep school on half-scholarship, competing with a bevy of co-evals who argue about everything from the meaning of a Shakespearean line to the nature of Israel’s purportedly occupational government. These are the kinds of students that I, a veteran high-school teacher, would have both welcomed and feared, particularly if dealing with one student of poetry in a class presided over by John Andrew Van Tassel (Matthew Broderick), a lad who apparently knows more than the teacher to such an extent that Van Tassel was obligated to shut him up.
Lisa, whose mother, Joan (J. Smith-Cameron, who in real life is married to the director) is a New York actress currently enjoying favorable reviews for a stage performance, is as neurotic as her daughter, though in a more modulated way. Divorced from Karl (Kenneth Lonergan) who now lives in Santa Monica, she becomes enraged when young Lisa expressed her desire to spend a year with him. The catalytic event that sets Lisa off to such an extent that she impacts upon Joan’s new boyfriend, Colombian computer wizard, Roman Cameron (Jean Reno) and on Emily (Jeannie Berlin), the woman who is best friend of the victim of a negligent bus driver, and on the entire cast including the dying victim (Allison Janney), is Lisa’s chasing a moving bus to enquire about the driver’s Western hat—an event that makes her partly to blame for the death.
Like the typical Shakespearean tragedy, there are subplots and complications within the principal action—the latter including Lisa’s seduction of her math teacher, Aaron Caije (Matt Damon) and of fellow student Paul Hirsch (Kieran Culkin). To interpret the movie superficially is to say that you would dread having a smart, sassy, hyper-emotional teen like Lisa. On a deeper level, the film deals with Lisa’s epiphany that she is on the cusp of adulthood, recognizing her own mortality by holding the bloodied, dying body of a woman. The film gets its title (I think) from Gerald Manley Hopkins’s 1880 poem, “To a Young Child,” which begins “Margaret, are you grieving/ Over Goldengrove unleaving?” We know, like Hopkins, that age will alter her innocent responses, and that life holds more than pure joy, but rather that “sorrow’s springs are the same,” that loss is basic to the human experience. A terrific job by the entire ensemble.
Rated R. 188 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – A-
Overall – A-