Movie Review: MARGARET
It may have taken half a decade for Kenneth Lonergan’s sophomore effort, Margaret, to reach the big screen, but it’s worth every minute we waited.
Filmed back in 2005 and hindered by a series of legal disputes, the film stars Anna Paquin as an adolescent New York student, Lisa, who involuntarily causes a bus accident. In the wake of the crash, which leaves a middle-aged woman dead, she moulds the fallout into her own operatic melodrama.
Much the same way that her mother performs at the theatre every night, New York is Lisa’s stage and she has cast herself the lead role of this production. Embarking on a pseudo-idealistic quest for redemption, the arrogant youngster turns people’s real-life tragedy into her own selfish drama.
However, in this quest to become the centre of her peers’ spotlight, the lives of Lisa’s supporting cast, which include Matt Damon as her naively caring tutor and Mark Rufallo as the bus driver whom she innocently distracted to ignite the events, are thrown into turmoil.
Witnessing these characters who orbit Lisa’s world hurled into disarray is what makes Margaret such an engaging film. As she feverishly crusades to have the bus driver arrested and integrates herself into the mourning family of her victim, Lonergan offers gripping drama and endearing black comedy throughout Margaret’s sweeping 150 minute length.
However, what makes the film, named after the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, more than just a gripping story and one of the finest releases of the year is the space in between the words.
After all, it’s a work of cinema rich in subtext. Not only does Kenneth Lonergan set his drama against a backdrop of post-9/11 New York where both racial and religious division collide with a deep sense of disillusion, but Lisa’s tale itself paints a picture of modern America as a whole. Her desire to assign blame for the suffering she has endured, despite often inducing pain on others while doing so, hints at the American attitude during the time of this film’s conception.
With such vivid themes and heavy meaning, Margaret is clearly an ambitious escapade and the gel that holds it all together is Anna Paquin’s performance at its core. Now famous as the star of HBO’s True Blood, the actress delivers the finest performance of her career as Lisa. Though she’s an entirely loathsome character, Paquin somehow manages to make spending two and half hours of your life with her a mesmerizing experience nonetheless. It’s a remarkable achievement and a shame it has only reached us now.
The fights between its studio, director and producer that kept Margaret shackled in development hell still rage to this day, meaning that the film may never find the audience it truly deserves. However, with just a little luck, this won’t be a film that gets lost as the years go by because what they unknowingly created against a backdrop of lawsuits may just be a masterpiece.