Film Reviews

Anna Paquin in Margaret, at Miami Beach Cinematheque

Shot in 2005 — lead actress Anna Paquin, now 29, credibly plays a 17-year-old — Margaret was delayed first by the editing-room angst of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, and then a court battle between its producers over Lonergan's alleged inability to produce a "releasable" cut. Paquin plays Lisa, whose role in a fatal Upper West Side bus accident leads her to act out sexually, antagonize her self-absorbed single mom, and obsessively pursue retribution on behalf of the accident victim. But is this the stuff of trauma psychosis, or is it adolescence? Lonergan's remarkable mess of a movie — dryly funny, uniquely novelistic — spins on that ambiguity, dismantling the impulses and pretensions of the precocious Lisa with painful accuracy while making blatant allusions, both verbal and visual, to the omnipresent paranoia of just-post-9/11 New York. (I'd wager that 30 of Margaret's 150 minutes are devoted to portentous shots of skyline, airspace, and glass-and-steel exteriors.) 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, 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.

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Karina Longworth