Review: ‘Margaret’

I held out seeing “Margaret” until the extended cut. We really had no choice here in Denver as no theater bothered to show it despite some assurances from our good friends at the DFS that they were gonna get it for a week.

Verdict? It’s a big sloppy mess of movie that is enthralling and pretty damn close to a masterpiece. Close.

One thing this movie does that is so damn refreshing is that once it establishes it’s inciting incident – a horrific bus accident that might have been caused by Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin shown above looking  distressed) – it doesn’t take the conventional approach and follow the resolution of the accident to its conclusion straightaway. Instead we get a daily look into Lisa’s life as she struggles to deal with all of the emotions that ripple out from her dawning consciousness that there is a whole wide world out there that is not 100% enamored or concered with Lisa Cohen. This point is hammered home by Emily (Jeannie Berlin) who plays the best friend of the bus accident victim when she gets into a fairly heated argument with Lisa where she tells her that all of the people involved are real people “… this isn’t an opera! And we are not all supporting characters to the drama of your amazing life!” Several scenes take place in an opera, including a pivotal scene with Lisa very late in the movie.

“Margaret” doesn’t just focus its three hours on Lisa alone, which would’ve been a real problem as she is a fairly precocious and conceited young gal who argues with anyone and everyone she can find. She becomes histrionic and tiresome at times not unlike most teens who fancy that they know how the big wide world works without ever having been in said world. Lisa’s not-that-great mom Joan (J Cameron-Smith) lingers around the edges showing just how Lisa learned some of her poor coping skills for the world and living in her own fantasy world of her acting & dating Jean Reno (who did seem a bit miscast). There’s a few scenes of Lisa’s distant (in many senses of the word) father who lives in California and doles out advice for which the ramifications don’t effect him other than via the phone. There is also a little brother and doting best friend to Lisa who play pretty minor roles too. Well, the more you look at it, Lisa is pretty much the main focus, let’s just say that there’s enough smaller roles played by Matt Damon, Kieran Culkin, Allsion Janey, Mark Ruffalo and Matthew Broderick to sort of balance out Lisa’s struggles.

POSSIBLE SPOILER STUFF

The movie definitely has an allegorical bent to it, which at times seems fairly liberal what with its Lincoln Center scenes and upper-class school for Lisa but they are not shown in a completely sympathetic light. The idea of the bus being driven by a cowboy-hat wearer who escapes punishment for killing a lady is not quite a critique of W as the driver is lower class, not a wealthy scion like W. Lisa’s crusade to get him fired sure feels like a typical fix-it-all liberal type, especially as she can be so righteous at times she turns into a caricature. But you know what? Life is like that, it’s messy, it does not adhere to a three-act structure and we sure as hell don’t all end up redeeming characters who are changed by a situation for the betterment of our soul. Does Lisa change after this journey? Yes, but not in a specific feel good way where the causality of all events fit into a nice, neat narrative. Lisa has the scales removed from her eyes several times yet you do get the feeling that she’s not quite buying the changes as she thinks that society is pretty screwed up and the justice she finally seeks against the bus driver backfires on her. The whole ‘you can lead a horse to water’ thing springs to mind as we see Lisa attempt to negotiate the adult world all around her.

The Koyaanisquatsi– like shots of New York residents and skyline were great grace notes dropped into the story. A nice touch that combined well with the film as each person or building hints at all of the stories of everyone’s lives sitting there waiting to be connected or not to each other. I don’t think you can fault this movie’s ambitions one bit. More filmmakers need to be this brave, that’s for sure.

In the end, once the film has finished and there’s been some time to process thoughts, you do get the nagging feeling that the movie demands to be rewatched very soon. For a three hour movie this is high praise as there are so many good movies just waiting to be discovered it seems almost decadent to spend another three hours with such a strident (haha) lead character.

Now anyone who loves the movies knows this film has a troubled production history – feel free to Google it and see what we mean – but to this reviewer that stuff doesn’t really matter now that the film is out there in a director’s cut which clocks in around three hours and a 150 minute version which we did not watch.

Final Verdict – Find the Extended Cut on DVD or Blu-Ray and watch it ASAP.

P.S. – this is the Gerald Manley Hopkins poem that the title comes from and Matthew Broderick’s teacher reads in the film.

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep & know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

(poem via allpoetry.com)

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