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Margaret—DVD review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
July 10, 2012 2:18 AM
3 Comments
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Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

I’m a latecomer to Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, having missed its brief appearance in theaters last year (after a five-to-six year delay) but it’s not too late for me to sing its praises. It has its flaws, but I defy you to find a more intelligent or impassioned American film this year. You may have read about the movie's tortured history, and playwright Lonergan’s inability to finish the picture during its editing phase, following his impressive filmmaking debut with You Can Count On Me. Margaret’s release on DVD, Blu-ray, and On Demand today is the first opportunity most people will have to see the film, which stars Anna Paquin and a powerhouse cast, including Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, J. Smith-Cameron, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Broderick, and Allison Janney.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

One sure sign that Margaret is not a cookie-cutter type of movie is that it’s difficult to describe or encapsulate. Anna Paquin is astonishingly good as a precocious teenage girl who speaks and acts impulsively, which is her undoing. After a tragic accident she tries to find resolution…and can’t. Her divorced mother (Smith-Cameron), a stage actress who’s about to open in a play, doesn’t recognize just how troubled her daughter is. Paquin seeks consolation, and attention, from a variety of people of all ages, including Berlin (absent too long from the screen), who gives a searing performance as a prickly woman dealing with a loss who, like Paquin, has no filter censoring her conversation or behavior.

I’m trying not to reveal very much of the story, which shifts its focus from one character to another while following the through line of Paquin’s desperate attempt to close this chapter of her young life. Every cast member gets an opportunity to shine, even in relatively small roles; that’s because nothing in Margaret is incidental or accidental. (Lonergan himself plays Paquin’s divorced father, a distracted figure on the telephone a continent away in Malibu, California. The girl’s cheerful but empty conversations with him are yet another example of this movie’s perceptive writing and superior acting.)

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures J. Smith-Cameron and Anna Paquin in 'Margaret'.

Not everything in Margaret is spelled out, including the significance of its title, which is referred to only briefly in a classroom scene. But that’s what makes it so intriguing and challenging to watch.

The writer-director has apparently made his peace with the 149 minute theatrical version of the film, but now offers an “extended cut” that runs over three hours on the Blu-ray/DVD release. I haven’t had time to screen it yet, and I’m not sure I want to re-live the film so soon after digesting its deeply emotional content. I’d almost rather wait and revisit it after time has gone by. Margaret is the kind of movie that stays with you.

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3 Comments

  • urbisoler | July 21, 2012 3:34 PMReply

    This film is just another excuse for Hollywood to parade Liberal values to excess. What are these values? Sex (pornography almost literally); gratuitous nudity; foul language (is it really that common for Noo Yawk teenagers to use this language in a classroom setting and have it accepted by their teachers?); dysfunctional family life. Had they stuck to the premise of lying about the cause of an accident, without all the superfluous nonsense, they might have had a better story. This film lacks focus. It was surely not intended for the viewer to like the protagonist but is her reaction to the accident in any way a typical teenager's response. I think not. Professional reviewers of film love the expression "over the top" as if excess was the key to great filmmaking. It is not except, perhaps, for the current generation. If you want great filmmaking you will have to go back to the golden age of the 30's and 40's.

  • Seth A | July 21, 2012 10:36 AMReply

    Mr. Maltin, I'm delighted that you've had a chance to catch up with this fascinating movie. I was lucky enough to attend a screening of the extended version, and can tell you that I think it will be a richer and more satisfying experience for most fans of the movie. The pacing is not as urgent as in the theatrical cut (as you might expect), but the characterizations are more extensive and most of the narrative gaps are filled in. And Lisa's role in the accident--barely discussed in the theatrical version--is explored in much greater depth here.

    I do hope that, when you are ready, you will have a chance to view the extended cut, not just for your own enjoyment but so that you can cover both versions for your Movie Guide. In fact, if you ever produce a new edition of your book "151 Best Movies You've Never Seen," "Margaret" would seem to be a perfect entry!

  • Kevin Barry | July 10, 2012 10:04 PMReply

    I'm so happy that you liked this film, Leonard. I fell in love with it and I have seen it twice. The confrontational scene where Berlin tells Pacquin that the world is not her supporting cast gave me shivers. When a critic like David Edelstein calls Margaret a "bad" film, I wonder how someone who loves movies can be so unresponsive to work this perceptive and absorbing.

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