(L-R) Sarah Steele as Becky, Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen and Matthew Broderick as Andrew Van Tassel in "MARGARET" a 2011 film directed by Kenneth Lonergan. NYTCREDIT: Myles Aronowitz/Fox Searchlight Pictures


DIRECTOR: Kenneth Lonergan

CAST: Anna Paquin, J Smith-Cameron, Jean Reno, Jeannie Berlin, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Kieran Culkin, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Rosemarie DeWitt


RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes

RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)

Sheri Linden

IN ‘MARGARET’ Kenneth Lonergan has created a kind of Upper West Side opera in which the arias are tirades, the duets shouting matches. The prickly heroine of the piece, a smart, angry teen convincingly played by a pre-’True Blood’ Anna Paquin, embarks on a mission whose ostensible goal is justice on behalf of an accident victim, but which serves more directly to forestall her own pain and guilt over the role she played in the horrific event.

Playwright/screenwriter Lonergan’s long-delayed follow-up to his acclaimed debut, 2000’s ‘You Can Count on Me’, is in some ways as indulgent as its privileged protagonist’s sense of self-drama — the two-and-a-half-hour film’s first 60 minutes, especially, could benefit from a more succinct approach. At the same time, nearly every scene is acutely observed, a strong cast fully inhabiting Lonergan’s symphonic collision of ideas and in tune with his ear for the harsh poetry of New York language, variously hyperbolic and sparing, engaged and self-protective.

Originally slated for release in 2007 (when Paquin wasn’t nearing 30, and with the late Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella among its producers), the film was stalled by legal battles around a protracted struggle in the editing room. A raggedness is still apparent, but if some scenes are too long and some repetitive, they’re never predictable. Critical response and word-of-mouth will be the key for this study of a character who can be as wearing to the audience as those around her, a film that’s far less conventional and intimate than Lonergan’s first feature.

At the beginning of ‘Margaret’, the most burning problem for Paquin’s Lisa Cohen – confident and seemingly older than her years but still essentially an innocent – is the search for a cowboy hat for a visit to her father out West. As a direct result of that ironic sartorial quest, she distracts a city bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) to the point where he runs over a pedestrian (Allison Janney). Lisa rushes straight to the centre of the bloody scene, offering the dying woman what comfort she can. Not wanting the driver to lose his job, she lies to police investigators about the crash.

But after an extended series of communication breakdowns with just about everyone in her life, plus a couple of gruesome nightmare visions, Lisa can’t rest until the truth is out.

Lisa acts out in many of the usual ways, the drugs and sex courtesy of a too-cool-to-strut schoolmate (Kieran Culkin).

Her fearless determination to make things right leads to confrontations with cops as well as the bus driver and his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt), and she forges a thorny alliance with the dead woman’s closest friend (a welcome screen return by Jeannie Berlin). Together they pursue a lawsuit against the MTA, and the language-driven film enters the realm of legalese.

If you liked... ‘Beginners’ or ‘Shame’... you will like this.