Running Time: 198 mins. Rating: 2 Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Distributor: Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, Mark Ruffalo, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno, Sarah Steele, John Gallagher Jr., Cyrus Hernstadt, Allison Janney, Kieran Culkin, Matt Damon, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Betsy Adiem, Adam Rose, Rosemarie DeWitt, Matthew Broderick, Olivia Thirlby, Kenneth Lonergan, Michael Ealy, Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, Adam LeFevre, Krysten Ritter
A young, self-absorbed New York City rich kid attending private school witnesses a bus accident that she inadvertently caused to happen. Suffering from teenage grief and angst, she obsesses over what-ifs to the point that she drags everyone around her into Sturm und Drang Upper Westside sense of liberal entitlement crossed with Jewish guilt.
Kenneth Lonergan is a respected playwright, adored by his fellow scribes and actors alike in a field where “the word” is God and actors — ego aside — are dedicated servants of the text. Lonergan is also a decent screenwriter (GANGS OF NEW YORK), capable of outshining the dreck pumped out of Hollywood’s Dream Factory on a daily basis and force fed to the masses. What he is not, sad to say, is a director of much talent. Sure he knows where to place the camera but any good cinematographer will defer to their boss while really doing what they know is better – and they’re usually right. Filmmaking used to be more than that but lately I’m beginning to wonder.
MARGARET, lauded by a minority of audience members and film critics as a masterpiece — some begrudgingly calling it “faulted” — is no GREED (Erich von Stroheim, 1924) nor INTOLERANCE (D.W. Griffith, 1916). Nor does it come close to any of the films bandied about as the 10, 25 or even 100 Best Films of all time (some more overrated than others, because a major film critic said so). MARGARET is a mess, made more so by a director so enamored of the written word that came out of his typewriter, he has lost that one essential skill any decent writer knows in their bones — to write well one must rewrite and rewrite again. It’s rewritten once more again when the words are spoken in rehearsal by an actor with no claim to the script except a paycheck. At this point the writer has to listen closely to how the dialogue plays in a dance of juxtaposition.
The most jarring aspect of MARGARET is that there are two schools of acting at conflict with one another, and neither realizes it. On one hand you have theatrical actors acting for film — without much success. Lonergan seems to have given roles to stage-bound thespian pals so they could have a taste of feature film paychecks. They in turn don’t ratchet back their theatrical performance styles and emote for the cheap seats. On the other hand, he uses film actors trying to keep up with the theater-fluent actors they play opposite; but as we can see, they are way out of their league. Mark Ruffalo comes from both disciplines but still suffers. Ruffalo seems somnambulant, reading his text by rote. His long-term relationship with Lonergan makes this failing effort all the more disappointing.
MARGARET is a second-rate melodrama trying so hard to be grand opera in the tradition of Francis Ford Coppola’s GODFATHER saga. Just because one is an opera queen doesn’t mean the general public comprehends any of the in-jokes and subtexts referencing opera warhorses and the anti-Semitic leanings of composers Strauss and Wagner. Or as Lonergan puts it, “Strauss was a Nazi, Wagner a pre-Nazi.” Lonergan injects thematic subtext with a sledgehammer.
The best analogy for Lonergan and his heavy-handed film is to compare them to the oeuvre of Tyler Perry who takes Chitlin Circuit black churchwomen theatre and kicks it up a notch. Both need editors for their scripts, and for their films. As an auteur, it’s verboten — the one recipe for disaster that ends Broadway runs on a regular basis.
Lonergan spent years vacillating over every cut of MARGARET, and still couldn’t properly finish it. The movie should have had a “Harvey Scissorhands” producer take it away from Lonergan, edit it, and release it without Lonergan’s approval. Rumor has it that Lonergan’s original edit was five-hours long. With Scott Rudin on board as a producer, along with Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack, someone should have had the balls to put their foot down (or in Rudin’s case, at least throw a cellphone at someone). Thelma Schoonmaker, the doyen of film editors, gets a special thanks from Lonergan in the credits. I’d hate to know how incomprehensive the film was before she put in her two cents of expertise that alone was easily worth a million bucks.
One of the most annoying things about the film (besides Jeannie Berlin’s ham-handed yenta acting style) is Lonergan’s continual use of camera-pans, which is utterly abysmal. This technique is traditionally used in low-budget “B” and “C” films to pad underdeveloped movies to feature length. Lonergan attempts to remind the audience that there are eight million stories in the naked city but that shtick goes back to the 1948 feature, or with the slightly younger but still greying generation, the 1958-63 tv series — too far back to make an impact on modern audiences who grew up watching color television.
They say that they don’t make films for adults anymore. That’s not true. Adults are the only ones who will watch this film — not counting the handful of teenage boys who have heard about Anna Paquin’s pre-“True Blood” nude scene. Even then they’ll just fast forward to that point and do a screen grab.
Screen Format: 16:9 (1.85:1)
Audio: English DTS HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English/ French/ Spanish
U.S. Rating: R
Total Run Time: 2:29:49
Closed Captioned: Yes
Screen Format: 16:9 (1.85:1)
Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Digital
U.S. Rating: R
Total Run Time: 3:06:12
If you like this recommendations: Smoking/No Smoking, Melancholia, The Tree Of Life