When Margaret finally arrived in theaters in the fall of 2011, it had been sitting in a can for years. In fact, the prints that screened came with a 2008 copyright mark, and the film was shot in 2005 (going by the theater marquees in the film). It was a wounded bird and it was cut down to two and half hours in ways that felt arbitrary. Kenneth Lonergan’s film is the story of a young girl (Anna Paquin), who witnesses a bus accident that she may have had some part in, and how that changes her life. Margaret was dumped in theaters and barely did any business, but then a funny thing happened: Critics began to champion the film, and Margaret is now on Blu-ray in the both the theatrical cut and an extended edition. And now it’s being hailed as a masterpiece. Our review of the Blu-ray of Margaret follows after the jump.
Lisa Cohen (Paquin) is a teenager in New York who goes to a private school, and is just getting into it with the opposite sex. Her father (Lonergan), who lives in Los Angeles, wants her and her brother to go on a horseback riding expedition, and Lisa decided she needs a cowboy hat for the adventure. She can’t find any in her neighborhood, so when she sees a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) wearing one she tries to flag him down. He runs a red light and kills a woman (Alison Janney). Lisa is there trying to help and talks to the woman, but her leg was removed in the accident and the blood loss is fatal. When the police ask her about it, she says she doesn’t know what color the light was.
Her mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron) doesn’t know how to deal with her daughter at this age, and Lisa doesn’t want to talk about it when she gets home, and wehen they do her mother suggests that it’s better to lie because there’s already been one life destroyed. There’s a nerdy boy who likes her, but she ends up getting deflowered by Paul (Kieran Culkin), mostly so she can get it done with. Lisa also wants to find out more about the dead woman, so she goes to Emily (Jeannie Berlin), the woman’s best friend (and possible partner, it remains vague) who is in charge of the funeral. The more time goes by the more Lisa regrets lying to the police, and so she gets Emily involved in a lawsuit against the bus company – though Lisa wants to target the driver.
Joan starts dating a European man (Jean Reno), and he’s infatuated with her, and as an actress Joan seems to like the attention but is ambivalent about their relationship. At school Lisa likes flirting with her math teacher Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon), and eventually she makes a move on him. But as the lawsuit continues, Lisa’s relationship with Emily and her mom grows strained, and Lisa begins to fall apart emotionally.
A plot description does the film little justice, as Lonergan’s masterpiece (yup) is both about and not about Lisa. Highlighted more so in the director’s cut, the film views her as she is: complicated, young, and seriously self-involved (though no different than any teenager). In the theatrical cut there are cutaways that come across as there to cover editing issues, but the extended cut, it seems more a part of a master plan, as there’s a conversation with a boy in which their conversation is drowned out by another couple nearby.
Lonergan is a great writer, and the film has a number of great sequences, with one in a classroom where kids are discussing Shakespeare with their teacher (Matthew Broderick) a highlight. But it’s a great lived in world, and the film – which is partly about 9/11 and being complicit but also not active in a tragedy – understands the characters and creates a world. Jeannie Berlin’s performance is singular, she’s a sharp tongued older woman with little time for chit-chat, and who tolerates Lisa but sees right through her (the scene about being “Strident” is amazing). And though it took seeing the extended cut to appreciate it, Anna Paquin is really, really good in this.
I saw the theatrical cut when it played, and – knowing about the film since it began shooting – watching the theatrical cut, I could feel how the film felt clipped. Now that there’s an extended edition, I see a number of people going back and forth about which is better. I prefer the longer version, but viewing both is essential. And both have flaws, but this is an intimate film that has an epic length, and that time is deserved and earned. I think the longer cut is better because it sets up a parallel which I think is defining in ways that the theatrical cut doesn’t (but some of the music in the extended cut is on the nose). The film both opens and closes with death, and one becomes the central drama in Lisa’s life, and the other is greeted with a shrug and bemusement until Lisa and her mother are given evidence that they are too self-involved to realize the effect they have on others. Margaret, like many great films, is about America. And it’s retroactively one of the best films of 2011, 2008, or possibly 2006.
Twentieth Century Fox presents the film in both the theatrical (150 min.) and extended (186 min.) cut. The theatrical cut is on Blu-ray and is widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround. The extended cut is on DVD, and is in widescreen and in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. There are no extras, and word is that the material wasn’t available to make the extended cut look good in HD, so they went with standard def for the longer cut. The theatrical cut looks and sounds that much better, obviously, and it’s a good HD transfer. The extended cut is a little rougher, though that could be more evident in direct comparison.