JDIFF 2012 First Look Cinema Review: Margaret, directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

First Look: Margaret

Tuesday, 21st February, 8:00pm, Cineworld

In Kenneth Lonergan’s long-awaited return to filmmaking since his breakout success, You Can Count On Me (2000), he delivers an emotionally intense and engaging drama set in New York City post 9/11. The film relates the story of teenager Lisa (Anna Paquin) whose path crosses with a bus driver, played by Mark Ruffalo. Their chance encounter results in a gruesome bus crash, claiming the life of a woman. And what ensues is a relentless pursuit for justice and atonement.

Oscar®-winner Anna Paquin delivers an impeccable and powerful performance playing Lisa, the somewhat spoilt, awkward and self-absorbed teenage daughter of separated parents, off-Broadway actress Joan (J Smith-Cameron) and Karl (played by the director, Kenneth Lonergan) who lives on the West Coast. As well as going through the horrific ordeal of the bus crash, Lisa is dealing with all the other issues that any typical teenager has to face. As a result her teenage angst seems to be amplified, to the point she often becomes a very annoying character, but this essentially works really well.

Margaret boasts a very talented and well-known cast. Even with their comparatively small roles Matthew Broderick, Matt Damon, Allison Janney, Jean Reno and Mark Ruffalo give great performances and their characters all have a vital role to play in the life of Paquin’s character.  Jeannie Berlin also gives a stunning performance as Emily, the dead woman’s best friend with whom Lisa teams up with in her quest for justice.

Lonergan’s portrayal of a young woman’s struggle with her conscience is superb. He captures the highs and lows that Lisa’s situation generates, from the beautifully calm slow motion sequences of Lisa walking through the city, to the powerful scene with Emily in the lawyer’s office for the last time where she has a complete breakdown. Another interesting aspect to this film is the complete role reversal of the characters. The usual student/teacher and child/parent roles seem to be reversed. The adults in this film are quite selfish, irresponsible and too caught up in their own lives to be able to give Lisa the moral guidance she so desperately wants and needs.

Her mother is completely preoccupied with her new play and new romance with Ramon (played by Jean Reno). Her father, who lives on the West (opposite) coast has a new family and is trying to kick start his career. He and Lisa have awkward conversations that show she is desperate for a parent – but he never delivers. Emily seems to be her only source of comfort and counsel but does at times question Lisa’s intentions.

Kenneth Lonergan participated in a Q&A after the film. The audience had nothing but praise for Lonergan and this, his second film. His tremendous love and respect for his cast and crew really came across as he talked about making this film. Apart from the fact that his wife plays Lisa’s mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) and he went to high school with Matthew Broderick, he really defends the merit in working with people he knew. He wanted to work with talented people, and the people whose talents he knows, are people he knows. Simple. He spoke of Anna Paquins performance as ‘always at full pitch’. He also spoke about the above-mentioned scene where Lisa and Emily are in the lawyer’s office for the last time and describes how she achieved her amazing performance after only three takes. Lonergan described how with the crew he watched that scene from another room on a monitor. When Paquin finished the scene and came into the room where they all were and he described how  ‘the emotion ebbed out of her’.

I found this film completely compelling and complex. The only criticism I would have is that there seems to be too much going on towards the end of the film, so much so, that some of the sub storylines don’t seem very plausible. But this doesn’t take away from the overall brilliance of the long overdue return to the director’s chair of Kenneth Lonergan.

Michelle Cunningham

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