Friday, January 6, 2012

A Few Words on Margaret

After much reading of raves and hearing so many people I respect tell me it's time I sought it out I finally caught Kenneth Lonergan's infamous Margaret.

And listen: I didn't love it. Which isn't a bad thing! I actually thought it was incredibly engaging and surprisingly swift for 150 minutes. Not to mention the acting, writing, and the score (shout-out to Nico Muhly's incredible work) were all top-notch. Yet people are throwing around the dirty 'M' word with regards to this film and I just don't think it quite reaches it. Perhaps Lonergan's original much longer cut is, and I wouldn't be surprised, but this feels incomplete.

Yet it can't be the running time of 150 minutes, can it? Well I'm here to tell you bitches that I think it is. With the amount of characters, relationships, and turmoil going on throughout the film's running-time, it's very easy to see why Lonergan had a much longer cut. This is an ambitious work, and one I wish that the studio had let run rampant. If Fox Searchlight is so excited to put out Malick's The Tree of Life--while shorter is MUCH more ambitious and feels much longer--I am surprised that they'd be so reticent to let this film's run-time go past 150 mins. I think it would've needed just a bit more room to breathe.

Our protagonist Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin)
But I say this with a grain of salt, because Margaret feels quite fragile. I wonder if even 5 more minutes were built in...would it fall apart? Just like Anna Paquin's Lisa, the film feels always on the verge of falling to shambles. When it finally does in the very last scene, it's a moving moment that feels entirely earned. It may be that very moment that will make this film grow so strongly in my mind, and if the 140 minutes prior weren't exactly as they were would it feel more or less cathartic? These questions may sadly never be answered for us (DIRECTOR'S CUT PLEASE) but at least we can appreciate what we have been given, and it is a wonder.

In particular, J. Smith-Cameron as Lisa's mother Joan really stood out for me. She's such a commanding screen presence, and so warm. Everyone is raving about Jeannie Berlin as Emily--who has two really amazing moments--but I found her shoe-horned comedic relief very eye-roll inducing in a few different instances. The person I kept wanting to return to was Smith-Cameron, and I would watch the film many more times just to experience that again.

Lisa (Anna Paquin) and Joan (J.Smith-Cameron) Cohen
Lastly, Paquin. Seeing her in this film just makes me angry that she's being taken over by True Blood. She manages to imbue Lisa with just the right amount of Upper-East-side teenage fabrication of maturity and worldliness without making it look just like naiveté. And that monster grows so terrifyingly steady, to the point where we as audience members don't remember what she was like prior. It's harrowing and yet by the end instantly relateable.

GRADE: A-/B+ (I just can't decide!)

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