DID YOU READ

Six years in the making, “Margaret” is worth the wait

Six years in the making, “Margaret” is worth the wait (photo)

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First, an apology. In writing up the trailer for “Margaret” on IFC.com, I invoked Gene Siskel’s old litmus test for movies: is a film more interesting than a documentary of its actors having lunch? “I have to imagine,” I said, “that no matter how interesting ‘Margaret’ is, a lunchtable documentary of its actors (Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, and more) would be more interesting.”

I was mistaken. I’m sorry.

Despite the film’s inordinately tortured history — six years and three lawsuits in the making, according to The Los Angeles Times — no documentary about its creation could compare with the drama of the film itself. Most of the backstage battles revolved around writer/director Kenneth Lonergan‘s inability to cut the film down to the two hour and thirty minute runtime his contract demanded. He refused to trim the film, other editors and filmmakers got involved (including Martin Scorsese, at one point), and legal proceedings were brought, all before the film was finally chopped down to an acceptable length and quietly released into theaters last week. Fingerprints of editorial distress are clearly evident in the film itself, which is a 150 minute long swirl of characters and themes and ideas that don’t always fit together neatly. In some ways, though, the film works better that way. If nothing else, “Margaret” teaches us that life does not fit together neatly. Why should the movie itself do otherwise?

What is “Margaret” about? God, what isn’t it about. On a narrative level, it follows a New York City teenager, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), who plays an unwitting hand in a fatal bus accident. But saying “Margaret” is about a girl involved in a bus accident is like saying “The Godfather” is about a old mobster who likes to pet cats. It’s also a family drama, a love story, a cynical look at the American legal system, an evocation of post-9/11 New York City, and as honest and unflattering a portrait of adolescence as I’ve ever seen onscreen. It’s a movie about guilt, responsibility, and the nature of art and its interpretation. First written in 2003 as Lonergan’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut “You Can Count On Me,” “Margaret” is a classic sophomore film: a movie heavy on ambition and ideas and light on restraint. Very light. In my book, and in this case, that’s a good thing.

It’s a shame that the biggest hang-up between Lonergan and his financiers was the film’s length: “Margaret” blows through two and a half hours and still feels too short. Like a teenager growing into their adult identity, it’s constantly discovering new facets of itself before our eyes. The 9/11 overtones first kick in during the first few minutes, as Lisa’s naive, self-absorbed innocence is suddenly destroyed by a moment of unexpected tragedy. While out shopping for a cowboy hat, Lisa spots one on the head of an MTA bus driver (Mark Ruffalo). She tries to get his attention and does so all too well; the driver gets distracted and plows into a pedestrian (Allison Janney). In an instant, Lisa’s world changes. The accident’s brutal aftermath, in which the injured woman slowly dies in Lisa’s arms, is easily one of the best and most harrowing scenes in any movie this year.

That’s certainly “Margaret”‘s high point, but it’s far from the only highlight: the film is littered with brilliant scenes, pitch-perfect dialogue, and unforgettable performances (it is also admittedly littered with a few less-than-brilliant scenes with tinny dialogue, and the occasional, forgettable narrative non-sequitur, most involving Lisa’s mother’s new boyfriend, played by Jean Reno). Paquin, channeling all the charm, rage, and confusion of teenage life at its best and worst, deserves consideration as the Best Actress of 2011 (or, technically speaking, 2006). J. Smith-Cameron (Longergan’s wife) is wonderful as Lisa’s mother, and Janney is absolutely mesmerizing in her one scene. Can you win an Oscar for one scene? Beatrice Straight won one for about five minutes of screentime in “Network.” I wasn’t clocking it, but I would guess Janney is onscreen for about that long. And she’s unforgettable.

Some of the editing choices are problematic — a few scenes end abruptly, others linger for too long — but “Margaret” is bursting with so much cinematic food for thought it is easy to overlook its occasional shortcomings. At a time when it feels like movies have abandoned novelistic complexity to television, “Margaret” stands nearly alone as a massive, multidimensional cinematic character study. Throughout the film, Lisa questions whether to keep the bus driver’s (and her own) involvement in the pedestrian’s death a secret, a process that mirrors the way her social studies class debates the United States’ response to 9/11. Ultimately and most fundamentally, I think the movie is asking what, if anything, is the appropriate response to tragedy. And once we’ve committed a mistake in the name of tragedy, how can or should we make things right?

In this case, I think the way to make things right is to go see the film. Clearly the best outcome for all involved now isn’t a documentary about the actors having lunch; it’s a documentary about the entire production bundled in a Criterion Collection Blu-ray box set that includes all the various cuts of the film: Lonergan’s director’s cut, Scorsese’s compromise cut, and the final theatrical release. In the meantime, the film is playing for at least another week in New York City, and opening tomorrow in a few more cities, including Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. It took six years to make this movie. Do yourself a favor: don’t wait six years to see it.

“Margaret” is now playing in limited release. To find out if it’s playing near you go to its official site. To tell us what you think of the film if you see it, leave us a comment below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”


Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”


But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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Draught Pick

Sam Adams “Keeps It Brockmire”

All New Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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From baseball to beer, Jim Brockmire calls ’em like he sees ’em.

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It’s no wonder at all, then, that Sam Adams would reach out to Brockmire to be their shockingly-honest (and inevitably short-term) new spokesperson. Unscripted and unrestrained, he’ll talk straight about Sam—and we’ll take his word. Check out this new testimonial for proof:

See more Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC, presented by Samuel Adams. Good f***** beer.

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