"What a glorious mess!" exclaims Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York. "Kenneth Lonergan's long-delayed follow-up to 2000's revered brother-sister drama You Can Count On Me finally arrives in theaters with little fanfare and the bitter air of failure around it. Don't believe the scuttlebutt… This is frayed-edges filmmaking at its finest."
"The last hour is a fiasco, full of mismatched shots, subplots from nowhere, and 360-degree pans that make you want to ship the director to film school," writes David Edelstein in New York. "But the first hour and change is jaw-dropping in a good way — that distinctive Lonergan way, the characters given their tongues and allowed to go wherever their fancies (and neuroses) take them, story structure be damned."
Alison Willmore in Movieline: "Margaret is the story of Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), who belongs squarely to two groups known for their capacity for noisy self-centeredness and unthinking entitlement — New Yorkers and teenagers. How nuanced and dead-on a portrait of Lisa the film offers accounts in many ways for how initially exasperating it is. Pretty, smart and outspoken, Lisa's in full adolescent chaos, hormones raging, moods swinging, never letting how little she knows of the world stop her from making grand pronouncements about it. The volume is turned up on her turmoil by a gruesome incident early in the film — chasing after a bus and trying to get the attention of the driver (Mark Ruffalo), Lisa distracts him enough that he runs the light, hitting a woman at the intersection, Monica (Allison Janney), who's headed home from the grocery store. Maimed and bleeding out, she dies in Lisa's arms as a crowd gathers, all the while asking about her daughter. For everything that Margaret is about — mortality, 9/11, the roles fate and chance play in our lives, justice and responsibility — it is foremost a wonderful and complex look at the splendor and awfulness of being 17."
"Taking its title from the object of Gerard Manley Hopkins's 'Spring and Fall,' a poem musing on a child's heightened emotional state and obliviousness to the ephemerality of feelings, Margaret hits those themes a bit too hard," finds Karina Longworth in the Voice, "particularly in its second half, which is dominated by Lisa's mommy issues. It's less successful as a human drama than as a near-Brechtian exercise in what human drama looks and sounds like — a distanced but often car-crash compelling portrait of a teen as an unfinished being."
Salon's Andrew O'Hehir reminds us that Lonergan shot Margaret in 2005 and points us to a 2009 Los Angeles Times article in which John Horn reported that "Lonergan was never able to arrive at a final version of the film that he liked, despite help from several veteran Hollywood editors, including Anne McCabe, Thelma Schoonmaker and Dylan Tichenor…. Lonergan, Fox Searchlight and principal financier Gary Gilbert wound up in court, trading breach-of-contract suits back and forth and insulting each other in the press. Rumors suggest that Matthew Broderick personally loaned Lonergan money to finish the movie, and that Martin Scorsese (who described one editing-room version of Margaret as a masterpiece — in 2006!) became involved after the legal fracas subsided, although his name is nowhere in the credits." His own take: "Rarely has a film with such a great cast and so many moments of terrific writing and such high dramatic goals (and overdone but beautiful cinematography, from Ryszard Lenczewski) been so messy and disorganized and fundamentally bad. And by 'rarely' I believe I mean 'never.'"
"Margaret was a film that split those at The Playlist who saw it right down the middle with some of us hailing it as a near masterpiece, while others had some clear issues with Kenneth Lonergan's long-awaited, sprawling drama." So they're presenting two reviews, one pro, one con. More from Tim Grierson and Sheri Linden (Hollywood Reporter).
Updates, 9/30: "The potent Margaret, with a tone as gloomy and sometimes as heavy as the establishing shots of overcast New York skylines that Lonergan uses ad nauseum — enough with the tree branches against clouds — may exhaust as many as it rewards," writes Mary Pols for Time. "But Paquin is spectacular. The character is almost too precocious, prone to dropping George Bernard Shaw phrases into her speech — 'Not that I want to make this woman's death into my own personal moral gymnasium.' Yet in Paquin's hands, Lisa is completely believable, and the realization of the potential the actress showed in supporting roles in 25th Hour and The Squid and the Whale."
In the New York Times, AO Scott notes that "in the course of following Lisa through her routines of school and home, we meet a few of her teachers (notably those played by Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick) and a handful of classmates (significantly Kieran Culkin, Olivia Thirlby and John Gallagher Jr) We also check in with Lisa's father (Mr Lonergan), a screenwriter who has remarried and moved to California, and with her mother, Joan (the subtle and volatile J Smith-Cameron), a stage actress who may be on the verge of a breakthrough. (And also of a new love life, thanks to a smitten Colombian businessman played by Jean Reno)." Lonergan "loves the mess and sprawl of ordinary human experience, and the challenge he sets himself is to remain true to that chaos while extracting from it a measure of narrative order and aesthetic grace. I wish I could say that he meets the challenge."
Update, 10/3: The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth has an update on the ongoing legal wrangling over Margaret. Most notable, probably, is that Lonergan want to send Scorsese's cut, which runs longer than the two-and-a-half hours Lonergan's constricted to contractually, to the Toronto International Film Festival — but Gilbert wouldn't sign off on it.
Update, 10/9: "In terms of ambition, and, yes, actual scope — the last thing this is is a 90-minute movie stretched out to some arbitrary epic — this is a huge leap for Lonergan," writes Glenn Kenny. "It's kind of comparable to the jump writer/director Jeff Nichols made from Shotgun Stories to Take Shelter, I suppose, but what came to my mind was the notion that Eric Rohmer had followed My Night at Maud's with something of mid-period Rivette duration, or maybe his own gloss on something along the lines of Eustache's The Mother and the Whore. That sounds a little out there, I know, but it might make sense to you if you see the film, which, as Joe Pesci said in Raging Bull, you definitely should do. And yes, I very much hope that Lonergan gets to make more films. Long ones, too."
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