Acting as conclusive evidence that getting a film distributed can often be the most difficult stage of the process, Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret (2011) – after spending 6 years in development hell – was unceremoniously released last year via an incredibly limited rollout. Starring Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon, Lonergan’s sophomore feature rightfully went on to be one of last year’s most critically revered films.
Paquin plays Lisa Cohen, an average teenager whose life is thrown into disarray when see witnesses a traffic incident that she may or may not have caused. The accident In question sees a women hit and killed by a bus driver (Ruffalo), and whilst it’s initially put down as an accident thanks to Lisa’s own testimony, she swiftly becomes haunted by the incident. In her attempts to set things right, Lisa encounters opposition at every step, from close friends and family to those affected by the tragedy – including herself – with her broken life taking numerous turbulent twists and turns before a final dramatic and shocking conclusion.
It’s remarkable to think that cinemagoers were almost denied the opportunity to see Lonergan’s eagerly anticipated follow-up to his remarkable debut You Can Count on Me (2000). The incredibly poignant Margaret takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride of conflicting emotions, effectively shining a light onto America’s dubious foreign policy. Examining the psyche of a post-9/11 America, the film successfully domesticates the overriding fear of a nation into the fittingly confused mind of an adolescent young girl.
Lonergan manages to harvest some incredibly nuanced performances from his talented cast, especially Paquin as the film’s conflicted protagonist. The actress takes the melodramatic mannerisms of Lisa and amplifies them to successfully create a character that the audience both warms to and detests in equal measure. Effectively capturing the realism between each character’s interactions, Lonergan also manages to juggle a seemingly bloated cast list thanks to a delightfully poignant script, successfully drawing out the raw emotion of each actor – regardless of how irrelevant his or her role may initially seem.
Whilst far from perfect (the final edit often feeling a little too shapeless and incomplete), Margaret remains a superbly-constructed morality tale, which intelligently reflects the changing state of a country with a growing sense of xenophobic paranoia. Many will have missed Margaret’s limited theatrical stint, so its DVD release should be heralded as an important opportunity to spread the word on this most remarkable of films.