Tuesday, October 04, 2011

unmoored, brilliantly

Lonergan directs Damon and Paquin

Kenneth Lonergan's long-awaited/long-delayed "Margaret" submerges a willing viewer in the scattered yet fascinating day-to-day activities of a privileged New York teenager named Lisa Cohen - or, as Lisa describes herself to one of her teachers, "an entitled liberal Jew."

The movie is an Altmanesque ensemble piece anchored by a major performance by a very game and very brave (and very young) Anna Paquin, who would normally be a shoo-in for an Oscar if "Margaret" wasn't made way back in 2005 and if it hadn't been mired in distracting legal and editing issues. Paquin's Lisa attends a progressive private school whose precocious students are smarter, more probing and verbally quicker than their teachers (who include Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick).

Particularly Lisa.

The lynchpin of Lisa's otherwise aimless life is a horrific accident that Lisa causes when she distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) who promptly mows down a pedestrian (Allison Janney). This brilliantly staged sequence shrewdly juxtaposes the death of one person with the rebirth of another.

Lisa, now no longer adrift, is jolted by bracing, powerful feelings. She's been enlightened and, once one is enlightened, there's no going back. Lisa can't unlearn this harsh lesson and return to her former self.

Lonergan's movie runs two-and-a-half hours (reportedly shortened from the director's three-hour cut by Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker) and, frankly, I wanted more. More of Paquin. And more of the cast surrounding her - J. Smith-Cameron and Lonergan himself as her divorced, estranged parents; Jeannie Berlin as a middle-aged woman who becomes Lisa's unlikely new best friend; Jean Reno as a European sophisticate romancing her mom, and Rosemarie DeWitt as Ruffalo's wife.


Jimmy said...

Joe! "Margaret" could have been one of your Cinema Obscura entries, given its bumpy history. Sad that it's become a victim of its makers, that is was dumpedby its studio and that too few critics bothered to review it. Great film.

Larry k said...

Just saw this film on Xmas eve in NYC - loved every minute of it... Don't understand the "mess" qualifications most critics had to give it... This is a masterpiece

Unknown said...

This movie is so good. Anna Paquin is SO GOOD

a.n. said...

Can someone pleeeeeeeease tell me WHY this film was titled "Margaret"?! I swear it kept bothering me throughout the whole film..ugh. otherwise loved it..great acting

joe baltake said...

a.n.: The title "Margaret," actually pronounced Marguerite(mar-guh-REET), is from a poem that Matthew Broderick reads to his English class in the film - "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" by Gerard Manley Hopkins which, like the film itself, deals with the "fall" Of a teenager. Margaret is referred to within the poem. Patricia Broderick, a friend of Kenneth Lonergan and the mother of Matthew, once suggested that the director read it.