After sitting in an editing room for nearly two years, Kenneth Lonergan’s MARGARET was eventually released by Fox in the fall of 2011 to very little fanfare. But for the critics who did see it during its limited theatrical run, it became one of the most talked about movies of the year. We’ve all been there; you catch a small movie that no one else has seen and you think much higher of it than you would if it were a popular film. Critics fall under the same trap and no movie is a better example of that than MARGARET. Now that the film is out on Blu-ray and available to anyone with a few dollars in their pocket, let’s stand back and acknowledge MARGARET for what it really is; a shallow, empty film with so many problems that no amount of editing could fix them all.
Much of the publicity around the film focused on the troubles Lonergan had in the editing room, succumbing to the point where Fox even brought in Martin Scorsese to take a crack at it. But the trouble with the film isn’t in the structure or the pacing (although both were flawed), but rather in the basic premise of the film and the filmmaker’s inability to establish any sympathy in any direction. The story revolves around Lisa (Anna Paquin) who is out shopping for a cowboy hat when she notices a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) who happens to be wearing a hat she fancies. While trying to wave him down, she distracts the driver and he runs a red light and ends up killing a pedestrian. When questioned by the police, Lisa lies and says the light was green.
This tragedy and the following lie are supposed to propel the film, but the audience is never sure what to think. On one hand, we feel bad for the pedestrian, but she has no close family and the family and friends she does have are obnoxious individuals. Maybe we should feel bad for the bus driver since all of Lisa’s anger and focus seems to be on proving he lied after the accident (yes, she did too and I’ll get to that in a second). But he has a family and we’re never really sure what he truly believes since he has less than five minutes of screen time. Lisa befriends the pedestrian’s best friend (Jeannie Berlin) who we know nothing about, but she’s there to push Lisa into a lawsuit.
Then there’s Lisa, who decides she needs to tell the truth about the accident and sets out on a quest to get the bus driver fired and ends up suing the driver’s employer (technically, she’s just participating in the lawsuit, but that’s semantics at this point). As she’s going through this, she embarks on several life changing events that really have no connection to the overall story. She loses her virginity to a kid (Kieran Culkin) in her school we never really get to know, she sleeps with one of her teachers (Matt Damon, who is onscreen for about 10 minutes) for apparently no reason and she starts hating her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), who gets way too much screen time given her lack of impact to the overall story. There was a sweet moment when Lisa and her mother share an embrace towards the end, but it was about half as sentimental as it should have been given the lack of build up.
Some will tell you that these encounters with the supporting cast cause an inner turmoil within Lisa that boils within her and is her way of dealing with the horrible tragedy. But if that’s true, it’s not conveyed well at all on screen. For the excruciatingly long 150 minutes, we watch Lisa be an immature, whiny teenager that refuses to ever look inward at her role in the tragedy. I assume Lonergan was trying to be subtle about it, but he was so subtle that he completely lost the point he was trying to make (assuming he had a point in the first place). Maybe it was the fault of Anna Paquin, who looked too old to play the part and seemed out of her element playing a character like Lisa. But without much to work with, it’s tough to be too hard on her.
MARGARET is not a diamond in the rough. This is one time where I have to actually agree with the way Fox handled this movie, which is to say there just wasn’t a good film anywhere in here. No amount of editing was going to fix it and short of a complete rewrite, there was never going to be.
Video: The video transfer is average, and it’s clear that Fox didn’t go all out on making this a top notch release. The extended cut is only on the DVD, which I’m sure is disappointing for fans of the film.
Audio: The audio was also very well done.
Strangely enough this Blu-ray doesn’t include any special features, but you will be able to see an “Extended Cut” on the DVD, this probably won’t be making its way to Blu-ray anytime soon.