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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Movie Review - Margaret

Margaret (2011)
Starring Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, Mark Ruffalo, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, Kieran Culkin, Matthew Broderick, and Matt Damon
Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

2006 was when Margaret was made.  2006.  That means this film was delayed five years before its release which is typically never a good sign.  However, after this film ended up being the number one movie of 2011 on an awards site I frequent and enjoy reading, I was looking forward to seeing this.  Instead of being treated to what some have called the best of last year, I slogged through 150 minutes of an odd tale with tons of loose strands filled oftentimes with bad acting, stilted dialog, and an overall stuffiness that never fades away.  I simply can't fathom that the director's original cut was over three hours.

Maybe I just don't get it, though.  There's supposed to be some deep connection to 9/11 here, but that just flew right over this reviewer's head.  Then again, lots of things in this movie just boggled my mind.  The story itself is relatively simple and the fact that it's stretched out to an epic length is, to me, simply a directorial folly.  While out on the streets of New York City looking for a cowboy hat for a trip to a ranch with her father, teenage Lisa (Anna Paquin) witnesses a tragic bus accident that kills a woman who just so happened to be crossing the street.  She can't help but feel that she is partially responsible for the event, feeling that she distracted the driver (Mark Ruffalo).  Lisa is a spoiled brat whose mom Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) is a burgeoning Off-Broadway actress and their relationship was already on shaky ground prior to the accident, but now it's falling off the deep end with both females at each others' throats.  Lisa eventually decides to try and seek some type of redemption for the woman who was killed by attempting to legally go after the bus driver, but that's the extent of the "plot" of the film.

Beyond what was laid out to you, the film meanders through a bunch of subplots that don't go anywhere and don't add anything to the story.  Joan starts dating some foreign guy (Jean Reno) who loves opera.  Lisa decides to lose her virginity not to the nice guy who genuinely cares for her, but to the druggie "cool" artist (Kieran Culkin) who deflowers her and then is completely abandoned by writer-director Kenneth Lonergan for the rest of the movie.  Lisa flirts with her math teacher (Matt Damon) which causes their relationship to slowly shift to shakier ground, leading to absolutely one of the worst scenes I've ever seen in a movie in which -- SPOILER ALERT -- in the film's final moments, Lisa rushes up to him and says that she's had an abortion which we have no clue is true (and if it is true was he responsible for it?) or simply retaliation for something.  This was so out of the blue that my eyes rolled and I let out a huge guffaw.  END SPOILER ALERT

Margaret just goes on and on, not knowing when to end.  It certainly doesn't help that it's peppered with uneven performances which are likely in part disappointing thanks to some of the most awkward dialog I've heard in recent years.  Anna Paquin -- even a "six years ago Anna Paquin" -- just plays the high school Lisa so awkwardly it's uncomfortable.  Her opening scenes lacked any modicum of believability that I was immediately disconnected from the film.  Admittedly, she does get better as the film progresses, but I still found her very off-putting.  It doesn't help that her character's motives for seeking retaliation against the bus driver are barely laid out and seem selfish rather than selfless.  Jeannie Berlin who plays the dead woman's best friend is playing things very naturalistic...almost too much so for a movie.  I realize that's an awkwardly-worded criticism, but I have no other way to describe it.  There were some emotional moments where I thought Ms. Berlin was rather brilliant and very effective, but in the simpler scenes where she's asked to recite basic dialog, I found her odd and almost too harsh to watch.  Similarly, the rest of the cast was just misguided by Lonergan.  His way of writing just didn't click for me.

And the less said about his direction and his lack of skills in the editing department the better.  Margaret was a real disappointment for me.  It's not even one of those movies that I can say was an admirable failure.  I just didn't get what I was supposed to take away from it.  It's a very basic story drawn out to a nearly epic length that simply doesn't work.

The RyMickey Rating:  D+

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