Like the operas that it references this film is full of tortured characters, potent drama and intense occasionally grating performances.
Filmed in 2005, Margaret stars Anna Paquin (23 at the time) as Lisa a high school student who becomes involved in a bus accident which results in a woman’s (Allison Janney) death. Her repressed guilt over the accident makes her increasingly unhinged and opens even further the fault lines in her already damaged family. Lisa finds herself in conflict with just about everyone around her including her actress mother (J Cameron-Smith). She tries to assuage her guilt and anxiety through casual sex and by pursuing a damages suit against the bus driver (Mark Ruffalo).
Paquin’s meltdown produces what may be the most screaming matches in cinema history. These vary from searingly honest to annoyingly histrionic and in combination with over the top music may test the patience of some audience members.
An all-star supporting cast including Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick and jean Reno are briefly effective but underused. There are small but impressive performance from Cyrus Hernstadt as the lawyer handling the damages suit and Jeannie Berlin as the Jannie’s friend who is also desperate to make Ruffalo pay for the death.
Set in New York, the film bears the constant spectre of 9/11 and the racial and political divisions that tragedy wrought. Like Spike Lee’s 25th hour which was also set in the shadow of 9/11, this film has a messy sprawling structure but doesn’t lose its grip on the audience.
It’s certainly a bumpy ride but this well-acted, provocative drama is one of the year’s more compelling films.
Surprisingly, the film was nearly shelved after director Kenneth Lonergan had editing issues and producer Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella both died. Fortunately, Martin Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmacher stepped in to help finish it.
Rating: Four stars.
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Released: 21st June 2012
Running time: 150 mins.
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