From a single screen release at the Odeon Panton Street in London the film spread out slowly, and momentum built for a film scheduled for release in 2007, now finally free of post-production legal obstacles and with a 150 minute cut finally approved by Kenneth Lonergan, briefly seeing the light of day.
Months later now we have an extended cut of Margaret on DVD, a cut closer to the director’s intentions and at just shy of three hours this release allows us the chance to take in one of the best films of the past ten years in (almost) all of its glory. However while this release is reason enough to celebrate Fox Searchlight have put out the film with no extra features and if there’s one film this year which would be greatly illuminated by a commentary, or a Q&A, or deleted scenes even, it is Margaret; put simply – it is a film you want to indulge in. More on this later, with something of an improvised, and greatly appreciated, alternative.
Lonergan’s dense, rich narrative centres on Anna Paquin’s emotionally turbulent teenager Lisa, and her role in the death of a woman, hit by a bus on a busy New York street, and her subsequent uneasy awakening. She strikes up a relationship with a friend of the dead woman and, through a misunderstood quest for justice, seeks to have the bus driver (a pitch perfect Mark Ruffalo) fired. From that brief outline Lonergan delivers a multi-layered narrative of startling honesty and Paquin’s character is given a great deal to experience and convey, from the increasing anger and teenager’s faux nonchalance while hearts and dreams break around her as many of the people in her world struggle to find their feet.
The film’s deceptive simplicity belies the collision of thematic elements and the avoidance of cliché (sometimes by using blatant clichés) and it is breathtaking. The film refuses to comply to those who want a directly stated intent, the greatest gift we are given is the respect to connect, or not, with Lisa’s plight. Paquin is more than capable of holding us through the three hours, and there is a fantastic array of talented actors around her. The aforementioned Ruffalo has a brilliant scene with Lisa and conveys the loss of pride and the growing fear bolstered by guilt-ridden denial with astonishing prowess and with small, but by no means insignificant, parts for Matthew Broderick and Matt Damon every scene is captivating.
But the star here is, undoubtedly, Lonergan himself. He fixes our gaze on a distant plane flying behind the buildings of New York, spikes the early conversations between Lisa and her actress mother with a criss-crossing of familial roles, unravels the taking of Lisa’s virginity with a cold and honest eye, all with implications which build on our understanding of Lisa and her unlooked-for sense of responsibility. At its heart this is the story of a young woman trying to do the right thing while doing everything wrong and Paquin takes tentative steps into the adult world as if she’s trying on new clothes only to retreat, crumble and return to the frightened girl who saw a woman die in her arms.
There isn’t anything like the wit of Bellow here, nor the undying love of the city Woody Allen casts across many of his films, but the same charge fills them all and produces that rare feeling of imbuing your own world with meaning. Stepping out into a busy street after watching this film you carry much of the confusion and fragility, aware of the crowd and of the diminutive nature of your own voice among it. The film’s afterglow is a powerful one and this happens rarely and should be celebrated as such.
As already stated there is nothing here but the film. But this is reason enough to buy it. Still, a missed opportunity.
One of our very fine writers, and a champion of the film for a long time, has compiled a comprehensive list of extras and Margaret miscellaneous which is the perfect place to stop by once the credits have ended. There are interviews, a filmed Q&A, and numerous pieces of the puzzle being updated including the all important links to buy the US Blu-ray and UK DVD and as Craig himself found out from Fox Searchlight they are keeping a close eye on the sales of this title and maybe, once the legal tangles are over and sales are impressive enough, there will be a UK Blu-ray and a properly compiled host of extras.
Craig Skinner’s post is on his site here and I think he deserves a round of internet applause don’t you?
Craig’s Extras – (5/5)