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Margaret Reviews: A Horrific, Pretentious, Operatic and Remarkable Mess of Movie?

by Anne Thompson and Sophia Savage
September 29, 2011 6:49 AM
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Thompson on Hollywood


Fox Searchlight finally opens Kenneth Lonergan's six-year-old $12 million Margaret this weekend, but it remains to be seen if it can make it out of the critics' slaughterhouse alive. The Gangs of New York screenwriter's debut as a writer-director, You Can Count on Me, earned two Oscar nominations, for screenplay and actress Laura Linney. But boy did Lonergan hit the sophomore slump, as he became paralyzed trying to cut his second film during an elongated post-production phase that made Terrence Malick look decisive. It's never ideal to take a movie away from a director, but Searchlight and producer Gary Gilbert had to go to court, as Lonergan was literally not cutting it.

Reviews and the trailer for the film, which stars Anna Paquin (and a young-looking supporting cast that includes Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janney and Jean Reno), are below. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir compares watching Margaret to "watching Sisyphus chained to the deck of the Titanic"...

Thompson on Hollywood

“It’s a great movie with great performances," Gilbert told TOH. The struggle involved the late producer Sydney Pollock and producer Scott Rudin insisting that Gilbert not take the movie away from an auteur final-cut director, whose three-hour cut—which Ruffalo calls a “masterpiece”—didn’t meet Searchlight’s contractual demands for a 2.5 hour film. Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker delivered a shorter cut, but no one was willing to pay the fees to make it happen. “If I knew the same facts, I’d do it again,” Gilbert says. “We had all the right ingredients. There’s no way to predict how things go wrong.”

TheWrap:

"Margaret is a mess, a pretentious, talky bore that feels like an amalgamation of workshopped theater ideas thrown at the wall in the hopes that any one of them will stick. The film wants to be about the solipsism of youth, the after-effects of 9/11, and the corrosive power of guilt, but the end result is exasperating and pointless."

Movieline:

"That’s a lot of baggage for what’s fundamentally a two-and-a-half hour film about a Manhattan high school student adrift after witnessing a bus accident, but Margaret bears the weight, a messy, vexing, rewarding work of both great shrillness and great humanism. It’s not a film that’s easy to love, but like a song you at first can’t stand but then end up humming all day, it works its way past your defenses and curls in close."

Salon:

"a work of enormous ambition, a clear effort to make the great post-9/11 New York City movie about death and love and guilt and repentance and family and other big ungainly things. It was a foolish thing to try to do, especially for a guy with such limited film experience, but if it had been completed and released several years ago, the whole experience would feel a lot less like watching Sisyphus chained to the deck of the Titanic. In some ways, the fact that this movie became an unmitigated disaster says a lot more about America after 9/11 than Lonergan intended."

ThePlaylist:

"The other main problem in the picture—other than to not explain its lead character’s sometimes noxious motivations—is its dogged pursuit of capturing some kind of divinity or cinematic truthfulness in humanity. Like its petulant teenage protagonist, Margaret feels like a self-frustrated and irascible picture. There’s a good movie somewhere in these 2.5 hours, and the film—which obviously went though dozen of different editorial iterations—but it’s just too damn precious, kicking and screaming to get out among all these messy subplots, threads, allusions to poetry and desperate need to fulfill themes."

Variety:

"A troubled and troubling 2005 time-capsule that arrives bearing all the scars of its difficult gestation, this unwieldy drama of conscience in the wake of tragedy is hyperarticulate but rarely eloquent, full of wrenchingly acted scenes that lack credible motivation or devolve into shrill hectoring. It's an angry, cacophonous storm of a movie, and like the horrific bus accident that sets it in motion, it's hard to turn away from, though only self-selecting pockets of the arthouse faithful will likely strap themselves in to begin with."

THR:

"Nearly every scene is acutely observed, a strong cast fully inhabiting Lonergan’s symphonic collision of ideas and in tune with his ear for the harsh poetry of New York language, variously hyperbolic and sparing, engaged and self-protective,..The film’s operatic intensity — beyond the trips to the Met that figure in the story, most effectively in the final sequence — helps to propel its often choppy narrative."

LA Weekly:

"But is this the stuff of trauma psychosis, or is it adolescence? Lonergan's remarkable mess of a movie — dryly funny, uniquely novelistic — spins on that ambiguity, dismantling the impulses and pretensions of the precocious Lisa with painful accuracy while making blatant allusions, both verbal and visual, to the omnipresent paranoia of just-post-9/11 New York."

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