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Margaret—DVD review

Leonard Maltin By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin July 10, 2012 at 2:18AM

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.
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Anna Paquin in Margaret-678
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.

Mark Ruffalo in Margaret-325
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.)

J. Smith-Cameron and Anna Paquin in 'Margaret'.
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.

This article is related to: DVD and VOD, DVD Reviews, On Demand, Blu-ray, Margaret, Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Kenneth Lonergan, Mark Ruffalo, J. Smith-Cameron, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno, Kieran Culkin, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Film Reviews