Margaret

Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret was stuck in post-production hell for a number of years, with the director apparently unable to agree upon an edit with the studio – Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker were drafted in to help, and came up with a 165-minute version that Lonergan approved, but he disavowed the 150-minute cut that was eventually released by Fox Searchlight. The director has since recut this definitive DVD version, clocking in at more than three hours, and it’s quite an achievement that this sprawling tale of a fatal bus accident and the subsequent fallout never really drags. There are small but important roles for some well-known actors – Mark Ruffalo, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Matt Damon, Jean Reno, Kieran Culkin – but this is really Anna Paquin’s film; she plays a witness to the accident named Lisa Cohen, who is partly at fault for the crash and also later unhappy with the statement she gave to police at the time. Some tension arises from her wish to redact it, due to disinterest from the police and advice from family members to let it be, but Margaret is so much more than a drama about blame and responsibility: there are numerous discussions in Lisa’s school about Islamophobia and the so-called War on Terror, which still have currency today, while this is also a teenage-growing-pains-coming-of-age film, in the sense that Lisa is going through a life-changing experience, has a fractious relationship with her actor mother (an impressive J. Smith-Camron), has romances with school friends and loses her virginity. Lonergan is an extremely talented writer and I like the efforts he makes to externalise Lisa’s inner tumult, especially through scenes in a diner where the overlapping dialogue of other customers creates short-lived cacophonies. Those that found the musical cues of Manchester By The Sea a little on-the-nose will presumably find similar cause for grumbling here, but I quite like his choices, even the classical pieces that are very familiar to most. (****)