Margaret: DVD Review

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Margaret: DVD Review

I don’t want to say that 2011’s Margaret is a bad film. Admittedly, I have warned my friends and family never to watch it, but I don’t actually believe it is awful. There are parts within it which are moving, interesting and well-acted, but somewhere along the line writer and director Kenneth Longeran apparently forgot how to edit.

The premise has potential: a teenage girl witnesses a bus accident – which she in part caused – and subsequently has to deal with her guilt and existential angst, emotions exacerbated by her youth. There is a stellar cast: Anna Paquin portrays Lisa, the 17 year old protagonist, while Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, J. Smith-Cameron and Jean Reno provide an impressive supporting line-up. It could have been this decade’s Crash (spoilers: it’s not).

My father picked up this DVD in Sainsbury’s for £3: this represented a decent bargain, at a mere £1 per hour of entertainment. Three hours is more than enough time to create a thoughtful atmosphere, examining in-depth Lisa’s solipsistic brooding amid the middle-class, post-9/11 New York world in which she moves.  However, by focusing so intensely and realistically on every aspect of Lisa’s reaction to the bus crash, it lacks momentum and climax, feeling more like a snapshot of someone’s life than a thought-out script.

30 year old Paquin portrays the tormented teenage soul with impressive accuracy, but this doesn’t necessarily warm you to her rather pretentious character. Lisa reminded me of the dangers of being an intelligent yet ultimately ignorant 17 year old (I remember this experience with shameful clarity): the naivety and nihilism that can lead to emotional turmoil, but also how bloody annoying you are to everyone around you – including, in this case, the audience.

The supporting cast simply aren’t given the space to develop and their characters remain, on the whole, two-dimensional, seen only through the prism of Lisa’s introspective “journey”. At one point, the character Emily argues with Lisa, telling her “this isn’t an opera! And we are not all supporting characters to the drama of your amazing life!”. The film itself would have done well to heed that advice.

On the whole, it does feel like Lonergan was attempting to create an opera or play, rather than a movie. The intense dialogue, the frequent use of interior sets and the sprawling philosophical themes all combine to create a sense that you are watching something intended for the stage, rather than the screen.

Perhaps this is the only way to appreciate Margaret: have some little tubs of ice-cream at the ready, build in an intermission time, and prepare yourself for the long-haul. If only I had known this beforehand, I may have fully enjoyed this potentially moving and insightful piece of cinema, rather than wondering when it would finally end.


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