April 18, 2012

Quick review: MARGARET (World Cinema Showcase)

Famously delayed, Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret makes it to NZ courtesy of the World Cinema Showcase, after an incredibly minimal release in the States.

Anna Paquin's Lisa Cohen and her reaction to witnessing and being part of deadly bus accident is the focus of this long-in-post film. It is the examination of a precocious and self involved teenager who is involved in an horrific and deadly accident - both as an observer and cause - and struggles to comprehend and move on from it; it is a film almost tangentially focussed on the aftermath of 9/11 in America and New York (filming as it did in 2005, just 4 years after those attacks).

The cast is one of outstanding quality. Paquin is given the opportunity to really do something special here and she grabs it with both hands and tears into it. Lisa Cohen is not an easy person to know, or even a very likeable one; she's in many ways a typical teenager arguing with her mother, flirting with the cute teacher and she carries a fierce intelligence, her speech often hyper-articulate. But she is, at heart, still a teenage girl more lost than she even knows. As she struggles with her own sense of guilt she throws herself into the lives of the accident victim's friends, berates the police and charges forward with a lawsuit in her struggle to accept and share the responsibility.

Surrounding her are Matt Damon, Jean Reno, Matthew Broderick and Mark Ruffalo. Though all of their parts, at least in this cut, are minimal they all make an impression. And doing impressive work as Lisa's mother and her mother substitute are J. Smith-Cameron and Jeannie Berlin. As the film is equally about Lisa and her mother and the woman who becomes something of a mother substitute for Lisa.
 It is a film of people talking; talking at and too one another, people yelling at one another, people arguing and being disappointed in one another. 

It is also a film about New York, with the camera often taking to wandering the skyline or watching the traffic passing on rain soaked streets. There is something almost Terrence Malick-like about the way Lonergan captures the city that never sleeps. There is beauty in the city, in addition to ominous images of air-planes and helicopters flying through or near the city.

It's a messy, shaggy, oblique and occasionally frustrating film. But then so is life and that's rather the point. Yes, you could lock Lonergan back in the editing room (or out) and cut a storyline here, cut a storyline there, nip & tuck a few things and make Margaret a stream-lined film about one thing and one thing only, but then that would really be taking away a large part of what makes Margaret special. It's flawed and one of those films that is kinda great because of those flaws. 

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