Reviewed by: Andrea McAteer
fatal traffic accident
lying in the Bible
realities and compromises of the adult world
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
How good is good enough? Answer
What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer
Matt Damon … Mr. Aaron
Anna Paquin … Lisa Cohen
Mark Ruffalo … Jason Berstone
Matthew Broderick … Andrew Van Tassel
Allison Janney … Wounded Woman
Krysten Ritter … Shopgirl
Jean Reno … Ramon
Kieran Culkin … Paul
Olivia Thirlby … Monica
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|Director||Kenneth Lonergan—“You Can Count on Me,” “Analyze This” (writer), “Gangs of New York” (writer)|
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Scott Rudin Productions
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|Distributor||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
The film “Margaret” is the second film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. It was filmed in 2005 and endured many legal disputes for five years, until a final edit was reached, and it was released in 2011.
“Margaret” is the tale of a high school student named Lisa (Anna Paquin) who witnesses a fatal bus crash in New York. She feels she is partly responsible, because she distracted the bus driver as he was driving, running alongside the bus asking him a question. At first, Lisa lies to the police about the light being green when the pedestrian was hit, when, in actuality, it was red. The film chronicles Lisa’s moral dilemma over having said the light was green, the thought that the driver killed a person, and there was no recourse, and feeling she held some blame. She seeks advice from various people she respects, to get their opinion on whether or not to go to the police with the information she has.
During this difficult time for Lisa, we see glimpses of her home life and personal life, as well as some side stories that never really develop. There is the story of Lisa’s mother Joan (J. Smith Cameron), who is a theater actress. She meets a fan, Ramon (Jean Reno), and begins a relationship with him, but it’s so secondary, with shots interspersed here and there, that we don’t get to develop any feeling toward the characters. As a viewer, I felt as if the mother is non-committal towards the relationship, bored and disengaged. She never appears to be having any fun or enjoying the company of her new beau, and the screen time the couple gets is so limited that nothing is vested in this relationship.
Lisa, in her own right, is trying to discover herself. She appears hostile in classroom discussions, usually getting quite heated when debating her side. She isn’t quite the epitome of teen angst, but of teen withdrawal and indifference. She experiments with sex and drugs and smokes often in the film. It’s hard to feel sorry for her, because she has an abrasive personality. Yet witnessing such a horrific accident—the victim dies in her arms—and feeling some responsibility for causing it, is hard enough for a mature adult to handle, but to add that to the stress of teen life is a heavy burden.
It’s just unfortunate that, in this film, it is difficult for viewers to sympathize with Lisa and her turmoil. I think the most revealing part of Margaret’s feelings are when she is in a meeting with an attorney who has made a case against the bus company to sue for punitive damages on behalf of the next of kin. The cousin of the victim has not seen her in quite some time, but suddenly becomes interested when the notion of $300,000 in damages is a possibility. Lisa is visibly upset that they are willing to settle the case, but the driver will not lose his job. Lisa hollers “I am responsible for this” and that is the crux of the film: Lisa feels responsible and helpless to have any justice done. She feels the burden or responsibility in having distracted the driver and then lying about the color of the signal light at the accident, as well as appalled that nothing will happen to the driver.
While going through her struggles, Lisa invites a boy over to “take her virginity.” Later in the film, she goes to a teachers home, Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon) to discuss the accident and things become sexual. When she leaves, and the teacher is feeling guilt over what happened, Lisa responds, condescendingly, that he’s acting like a kid, and it was just sex. Disgusted, she lets herself out of the home. Later in the film, she approaches Mr. Aaron while he is with a female teacher and blurts out that she had an abortion, and it cost $400. She goes on to say it could have been one of a couple different people, and that her parents know about it. As the viewer, this came out of nowhere. There was nothing leading up to this, no pregnancy test taken, no visit to a doctor or clinic, so when this scene happens, you have to wonder if she is making it up. In her self-centered orientation on life, coupled with the burden of the accident and processing it, is she merely looking for attention? The scene seems just tossed into the film, not developed (as many of the scenes feel), so I didn’t know what to make of it.
Apparently, differences in opinion, on the part of Kenneth Lonergan and the producer and editors, really took a toll on this film. The end result is 2½ hours of disconnected, stretched out story that is dull, with characters undeveloped, shots of school life, home life and the mother’s life interspersed here and there, that leaves the viewer wondering what the point is to these shots. Were they just needed segues to move from one scene to another? Yet, they are not fluid and don’t tie the story together, and therefore leave you wondering why it was added. Prolonged shots of New York and buildings abound throughout the film. In one particular scene, we see building after building, the back of Lisa’s head as she waits to cross the road, finally see her cross, and we watch her walk away. This scene goes on for some time, and there seems to be no point to it. The film, as a whole, is an exercise in dragging something out.
Objectionable Content: Vulgarities abound in this film. Even Lisa, a teen, throws around some very poor language. F**king (21), f**k (2), bulls**t (3), s**t (6), c**t (4), b**ch, and d**n (2) are used. God’s name is taken in vain in various combinations 13 times, and Christ’s name 5 times.
In addition to the language, there is the sexual content. The mom is shown in her dark bedroom masturbating, and later we see her nude from the waist up. Lisa and a boy are nude silhouettes having sex. Lisa is shown topless. Oral sex is shown, and in another scene it is about to happen, but the scene changes moments before.
The accident scene is rather gruesome, with blood and a detached leg still under the wheel of the bus.
In my opinion, this is a film to avoid—not only for its objectionable content, but because of the movie’s disjointedness. It really goes to show, you can have a good cast, but without good editing, a movie can flop. The idea for the film was good— a heartfelt moral struggle about dealing with the pain life brings—but it was so burdened down in the film that I couldn’t appreciate it. I imagine it must have been very frustrating for Kenneth Lonergan and all those involved in it, to devote the time, money and effort to shoot a film, and then to struggle so to bring about an end result.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.