Film Review: Margaret


Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, J. Smith Cameron
Release date: Out now

Kenneth Lonergan’s directorial debut, You Can Count on Me, was released eleven years ago to the applause of cinema-goers and critics alike. Shooting began on Lonergan’s follow up, Margaret, in 2005, but due to editing conflicts and legal battles, it is only being released now. The film takes inspiration from former UCD Professor Gerard Manley Hopkins’s novel Spring and Fall, whose main themes of a girl’s reaction to mortality and mutability are central to the film.

Many may be instinctively dazzled by the film’s narrative approach, taking its cues from the popular French cinematic tradition of not allowing a plot to drive a movie forward, but instead placing a ranging and probing interest on personalities and relationships. The film centres on the character of teenage New Yorker, Lisa (played with verve, conviction and precocity by Anna Paquin) in the days and months following her witnessing of a horrific traffic accident. Lonergan’s willingness to use every technique at his disposal for the deepest exploration of her emotional environment and inner life deserves to be praised. This inner life allows a superb supporting cast to shine – notably Matt Damon as Lisa’s math teacher and J. Smith Cameron as her Broadway actress mother.

Margaret can be easily discussed as a post 9/11 work. The script is constantly pervaded with trauma, rage and blame. This can be seen topically (due to wonderfully convincing heated classroom debates between members of Lisa’s class about Islam and American foreign policy), as well as thematically with Lisa’s normal, anarchic teenage life falling apart after attempting to comfort a dying pedestrian.

Lisa’s reaction to the trauma – assimilating her developing sense and understanding of the world – is the central node of Margaret, but, frustratingly, is never really fully realised. It seems that in seven years of post-production and editing the director still has not made sense of Lisa’s story. This is particularly evident in the film’s final hour, which seems like a heap of half-written and increasingly frantic and disjointed scenes when compared to the previous hour and a half’s beautiful, fully realised exchanges and impulses that rip at the seams. By the finale it is evident that this film has fallen under the weight of its own scope and is a strangled vision of what Lonergan had originally intended. And yet, in its own strange way, it is undeniably haunting.

In a Nutshell: Broken, yet deserving of acclaim