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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.