Sunday, July 29, 2012

Margaret: Movie Review


Attention-seeking teenager goes through death, mortality and innocence
by way of poetry in attention-deserving "Margaret".

“Margaret” took years to get to us, seemingly even longer to play out, but tells a story so poetic and heartbreakingly real that you couldn’t imagine it any other way. Lisa (Anna Paquin) is a teenager; she’s lost in her own world by her own misguided arrogance, but she must come to terms with death and the true nature of a tragic accident. 2011

Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

Screenplay by: Kenneth Lonergan

Starring: Anna Paquin and Matt Damon

The film starts with Lisa in high school determinedly getting her way even though she probably doesn’t deserve to. Nonchalantly waiting ‘til class is over and wearing a skirt too short, she saunters her way to the front where her math teacher, Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon), chastises her for her poor grades. But with a slightly flirtatious tone, Lisa settles the matter with a supposedly shared understanding that it’s okay because math won’t factor into her future.

Later, Lisa sets out to find a stylish but functional cowboy hat in the middle of New York City. She is unsuccessful until she spies one on the head of a boyishly handsome bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) and jauntily jogs beside it determined to get his attention to both: find out where he got his hat; and also to quench a teenage girl’s desire of just getting his attention. She succeeds; he drives through a red light, and kills a pedestrian in the process.

Lisa immediately feels the pain, guilt and remorse and tries to ease the woman’s passage into the afterlife. The film then becomes a character study of a teenage girl determined to get past the pain and aftermath of a tragedy caused by a simple accident. The fascinating parts of this film involve how our lead character becomes less sympathetic but more fragile while remaining equally reckless.

Questions about the cause and nature of mortality are raised, and most interestingly what are the moral and immoral ways to respond to it. The film’s title comes from the poem “Spring and Fall: [Margaret, Are You Grieving?]” written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1880. Margaret is a child who must come to terms with the loss of her innocence. “… And yet you will weep and know why. Now no matter, child, the name; Sorrow’s springs are the same.” Lisa’s English teacher (Matthew Broderick) recites this poem to the class. Lisa is, at times, a typical teenager, bent on having things her way, always having her point heard. But now the shaky foundations which her arrogance is based on begin to crumble and we don’t know and she doesn’t know if she’s still innocent or where she lost it.

The shortened released version of “Margaret” clocks in at over two and a half hours; edited down from the three-hour director’s cut. But because of the universal tale of life and death that it tells, it needs the length. It doesn’t have a simple plot, and Lisa is not a simple character. It can definitely seem errant with its uneven editing, but that’s probably going to be an expected outcome of 6 years’ worth of legal and creative battles going on behind the scenes.

Broderick and Ruffalo re-team from Lonergan’s previous indie success “You Can Count on Me” (2000), but don’t expect any actor to show more range or emotion than Anna Paquin. Everything goes through Lisa.