Back in 2000, first-time
writer/director Kenneth Lonergan turned a lot of heads with You Can Count
on Me, a smart and layered ensemble drama which made stars of the
relatively unknown Mark Ruffalo and Laura Linney. A few years later,
Lonergan started prepping his follow-up to that acclaimed debut.
was filmed back in 2005, but has been mired in a series
of legal struggles ever since. In 2010, when we talked with Ruffalo about
his then-current film The Kids Are Alright, he was asked about what
was happening with the long-gestating film, in which Ruffalo played a
small-but-vital role. Fans were wondering when they would be able to see
it. "Buddy, you and me both," Ruffalo said. "I don’t know what is
happening with that. I keep hearing that rumblings that it is coming out
any time now…. But you probably know as much about it as I do, honestly."
Two years later, and
seven years after it was filmed, Margaret was finally briefly slipped
into a small theatrical run. A few months later, it is finally seeing wide
release on video and on demand.
let that the
extended and difficult road to release make you think that is a sign of an
inferior film. In fact, although Margaret has some flaws, it's one
of the more intriguing films of the year (2012 as well as 2005).
The story revolves around
a tragic accident which occurs in New York. Lisa (a pre-True Blood
resurrection Anna Paquin) is a smart but troubled high school student,
daughter of a stage actress and an estranged producer husband who is now
living in California with his new wife. One day while she is out shopping,
she distracts a passing bus driver (Ruffalo) on a crowded street. Because
he is looking at her, not the street, he runs a red light and ends up
killing Monica (Allison Janney), a pedestrian
crossing the street. Feeling guilty about her part in the tragedy, Lisa
lies to the police that the woman crossed against the light. Later she
finds she has second thoughts and wants to recant her story, but is angry to
find that the driver does not face any retribution.
Margaret is actually the
story of Lisa. (The title Margaret does not refer to any of the
characters. It is a reference to a poem being taught in Lisa's high school
English class.) It follows her day-to-day life, with family, with friends,
with boys, in school, as she tries to cope with what has happened. The
bus-driver is only involved in the film tangentially, even the dead woman
only has one scene.
Lisa is not necessarily a
very likable character. She's self-absorbed, passive aggressive, overly
emotional, self-righteous, petty, argumentative, insecure, often mean to the
ones who love her the most - in short, she's a teenaged girl. However, the
way she acts is often reprehensible, and when one of the characters finally
calls her on it the audience can't help but nod in agreement.
You never quite know why
Lisa is trying so hard to get the guy fired, particularly since she was as
responsible as he was. She keeps saying that he should feel as much about
it as she did - and yet she has no real way of knowing that he did not feel
horrible about what happened. Their one meeting after the fact was without
warning and a bit of a confrontation, he would have reason to be defensive.
However, when she finally breaks down and explains her reasoning, it is
heartbreaking, if perhaps a touch misguided.
The cold, hard fact is
that it was probably just a tragic accident, despite the fact that two
people unwittingly contributed to it. No matter how hard you work placing
blame, it doesn't change a thing. A woman is dead and two people are going
to have to live with the guilt for the rest of their lives.
Lonergan's specialty is
to show the ripples of these things and how a large cast of characters are
directly and indirectly affected by a moment in time. It's a fascinating
story by a master filmmaker. I hope it doesn't take another twelve years
for his next film to get a release.
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PosMargaret: July 10, 2012.