Wednesday, 18 January 2012


Kenneth Lonergan made the wonderfully poised and warm drama, You Can Count On Me (2000) and therefore his follow-up was greatly anticipated. Unfortunately, Longergan's sophomore feature finally saw the light of day some ELEVEN years later. The film was actually shot in late 2005 but a protracted release drama has since unfolded. These LA Times articles (April 2009 and September 2011) summise this particular studio vs producer vs director battle.

And now we have the film (Margaret) and if we're fortunate, an opportunity to screen it in cinemas. Annoyingly, the eventual release has been very limited and lowkey (unless you're one of those weird cinefiles like us). The annoyance of a central character (in this case 'Lisa' played by Anna Paquin) can prove to be a barrier in some films but due to Paquin's commitment and Longergan's uncritical treatment of his characters, we come to appreciate the authenticity of such a seemingly brash yet vulnerable individual. We can relate to such a challenging personality, as these are evident all around us in daily existence and perhaps within ourselves.

The film acts as an emotional chain reaction to a Manhattan road accident, which plays out disturbingly realistic in it's practical approach. Lonergan explores Lisa's relationship with the event and with others, and how Lisa can only act within her current consciousness and consequently be limited to how others may perceive her (including us, the audience). Perception and reality can often BOTH be subjective due to the artificial nurturing of the human mind, which is largely influenced by the cultural and social values around us. Lonergan understands this and therefore, whilst we the audience may judge Lisa on her actions, Lonergan does not, as her perception of her reality is neither right or wrong but true to Lisa's current state of being.

The editing (by Lonergan's friend and previous colleague Martin Scorsese and Scorsese's regular editor, Thelma Schoonmaker) appears to be a case of making the best of a shambolic job. One could argue that the film's shaky editing adds to the film's ethos or mindset but a director's cut could potentially present this picture to be the masterpiece that it often hints at. Due to running time constraints, many scenes end abbrubtly, which is not necessary a bad decision but the transition from scene to scene is quite jarring throughout. The film also becomes slightly bogged down in half-cocked legal scenes, which add little to the essence of the film.

Despite this, there is much to admire in Margaret, with it's refreshing post-9/11 'New York living' environment and emotional depth in scenes between Lisa and her mother (Joan), and Lisa's sexual awakening and insecurities.
J. Smith-Cameron's (also Longergan's spouse) performance as the mother is perhaps the most complete (although again editing probably deters from some of the other character performances). She is conscious of her wayward relationship with her daughter, career, romance and life in general but due to her awareness, she attempts to overcome these struggles (albeit within the limits of her persona and current state of confidence). This is juxtaposed with Lisa, who is for good reason (her lack of life experience compared with Joan) mostly unable to perceive the need to change or adapt to her current predictaments.

The treatment of Margaret's release is a story in itself and even now, is not ideal (the aforementioned limited release and little studio backing, given the film's talent) but then the politics of film studios, producers and their relationship with directors can be more dramatic than the output of their films. Margaret may understandably lack the tightness of You Can Count On Me but the emotional heights are perhaps even greater. Let's hope Mr Lonergan's talents are shared with us sooner than eleven years because there must be a moment when his talent will fully meet his cinematic ambitions.


1 comment:

  1. I would imagine Matt Damon's box office success these days convinced them to finally release Magaret. I hope to see it, despite the editing problems you allude to.

    You certainly have to be patient if you are a fan of directors Bruce Robinson (Rum Diary,19y break), Kenneth Lonergan (11y break), Alexander Payne(7 years)