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If you like awkward movies about characters painted in such a way that you can't help but loathe them, and with a storyline that doesn't really go anywhere, this one might be for you
I come to the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, Spring and Fall, through the Kenneth Lonergan film, Margaret. Until the poem is read in Lisa's class, I was constantly asking: Who is Margaret? Upon hearing the poem, I was overwhelmed. But not so much by the Manley Hopkins poem as by the Lonergan film and Anna Paquin's performance in it. I don't think I've ever had this experience before: that of a film bringing both the philosophic depth and emotional rawness first expressed in but a few lines of verse to such wonderful life on screen. It was a revelation the likes of which I certainly never expected. Margaret is what movies might be if they ever grew up and became films. My tears were elicited, even inspired; not jerked. Lonergan's Margaret is truly breathtaking, and Anna Paquin is a magnificent actress. I am most anxious for her to be the kind of actress that has more parts like Lisa Cohen, the same kind of parts that Margo Channing was for Bette Davis and Norma Desmond was for Gloria Swanson … but now, while she's still youngish. I thought she was amazing in True Blood and Fly Away Home, but other of her appearances have frankly not risen to the height of Margaret's Lisa Cohen — not, let me assure you, Anna, because of any acting misstep by you. Other roles were just not up to the masterpiece that is Margaret. Kenny Lonergan gets major kudos for writing, directing, and poetic interpretation.
I don't know if MARGARET is supposed to be one of those coming of age tales in New York or if it's a coming age tale interrupted that shows us how traumatic experiences can cause emotional strife, but either way it works with its trauma drama.
I had been eagerly awaiting watching this film like unwrapping an expensive gift on Christmas morning. Thank goodness I wasn't disappointed and instead watched one of the best films of the 2010s in my opinion. I couldn't convey the brilliance of this film in words because you have to see it but I suppose I hope to convince anyone on the fence that this is a film that you must watch. Lonergan set out to make an extremely ambitious film and he achieved to a large degree what he wanted as we see a patchwork of disparate lives coming together in the aftermath of 9/11. The film is also technically unique as we hear background dialogue concerning seemingly unrelated people that adds to the sense of the film representing the general attitude of New York City in addition to featuring sweeping shots of the local architecture. I found myself loving this film even more than I expected and now I would call it one of my favorites.
Lisa Cohen, Anna Paquin, is a pretty, self-absorbed teenager with divorced parents and a difficult relationship with her actress mother, J. Smith Cameron. One day while out shopping for a cowboy hat of all things she distracts bus driver Gerald Maretti, Mark Ruffalo, causing him to hit and kill Monica Patterson, Allison Janney, who emotionally connects with a distraught Lisa before she dies. Lisa attempts to connect with those who were close to Monica after her funeral and set up a lawsuit against Maretti in an attempt to blame someone definitively for Monica's death. Meanwhile her mother begins a relationship with Ramon, Jean Reno, who comes into conflict with the critical Lisa. She faces several more trials that don't always reach a happy or complete ending but is eventually able to reconcile with her mother.
The character of Lisa Cohen feels like such a real teenager that I could identify many of my friends and parts of myself that are eerily similar to her. Lonergan's screenplay allows for her to speak intelligently but also to sound over eager and needy in the way that teenagers do. Her manipulations are also rather obvious but the way that she always speaks around the major issue and uses words that may not be interpreted as negative but that are sharp and corrosive when she combines them together. In many ways this character is dangerous as she has this uncanny ability to manipulate those around her but we see in other scenes, her awkward seduction of her teacher, Matt Damon, that she is still very much a teenager with much to learn about the ways of the world. She is fragile but dangerous and her temperamental outbursts make us fearful of what she will do whilst her tearful arguments with her mother make us pity her, she is more real than most characters I have seen.
The same truths are present in all of the other characters in the film, even Maretti who Lisa sees as a villain is complex and sympathetic. Her mother, try as she might, just can't get through to her daughter and her uncomfortable relationship with Ramon which ends abruptly just piles on the pressure. Jeannie Berlin's Emily, who was a friend of Monica's, is a most fascinating piece of fiction as she is always able to get her way and harbors her own resentments towards Lisa. The argument between Lisa and Emily is in many ways the climax of the film and all of the facades that get knocked down and the outpouring of Emily's emotion is stunning. I felt squeamish but gripped intensely by this scene in particular and my fears for both of the characters allowed me to realize I was watching a great piece of drama.
Anna Paquin was robbed of the Best Actress award especially in a year where Meryl Streep won for The Iron Lady (2011), I love Streep just not that movie or her performance in it. Her Lisa is alive with passion, fear and internal pain that all teenagers feel, she is gifted with a great screenplay but she takes what she is given and makes gold out of it, there are very few actresses I could name who could have done better in this role and Paquin is magnificent. Equally robbed was Berlin for Best Supporting Actress as Emily who she injects with a Bancroft-like sense of authority and the argument alone contained some of the best acting of the 21st century. Everybody in this film down to John Gallagher Jr. is superb and Lonergan's direction draws deep emotion out of them placing characters that feel true to life on screen.
Trying to analyze this film is beyond me as I have read that the bus crash is in itself a metaphor for 9/11, Lisa is the United States, Maretti and the bus are Al-Qaeda and Monica is the Twin Towers but my perspective on the film is ever-changing. Being able to look at the same piece of art and derive new meanings and ideas and little subtle details out of it each time is rewarding. So far I have re-watched it three times and each time my love for it has exponentially grown in ways I never thought possible.
80% of the movie can be taken out. Boring and pretentious.
Some genuinely enjoyable and thought-provoking moments, supported by an extremely well-written and often well-performed script, that kind of create a Short Cuts effect, though with the focus on a single person, convincingly played by Paquin, who is almost detestable at times, so convincingly does she play the traumatised adolescent who, as a child, is unable to see her own degree of responsibility in the events she helps catalyse, and instead blames everyone else for her issues. Brilliantly put down though with a line which runs something like "'I'm not a character in the opera of your life".
Review on AllMovies is spot on. This film felt incomplete at 150 minutes. Damon, Ruffalo, and Broderick are barely “supporting” actors. Anna Paquin’s performance is strong, but frustrating because of the scattered plot. Wouldn’t watch again or recommend.
Anna Paquin exposes her acting chops in this rather meandering Kenneth Lonergan drama.
Looked at the timer at least 10 times to see how much longer I would have to put up with this, and I watched the 2 1/2 hr version. Don't think I would've survived the 3 hr torture. It was unreasonably long, it was like a brainstorm of ideas put in film, but with 0 connection or purpose. And sorry ya'll but the main character is so annoying it was an absolute miracle this movie even reached more than $300,000 box office. My ears actually hurt from listening to her for 150 minutes.
Excellent dialogue and strict attention to realism make Margaret well worth a viewing and an excellent platform to show Anna Paquin's talent.