Kenneth Lonergan’s Long Awaited 2nd Film, MARGARET, Now On DemandJuly 30, 2012

Kenneth Lonergan’s Long Awaited 2nd Film, MARGARET, Now On Demand

Fox Searchlight

On Demand Weekly provides new movie reviews of hot movies on demand and from the POV of watching from the comfort of your home. Today’s review: MARGARET (Fox Searchlight).


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By Melissa Chesman


DEMAND IT. Granted, that’s usually reserved for the last comment, but having waited 11 years for Kenneth Lonergran’s follow up to his indelible first feature film, YOU CAN COUNT ON ME (a wait mostly due to the heated, protracted, fiercely litigious editing process of MARGARET), who wouldn’t wish to see the net-net of all the controversy?


Matt Damon, Anna Paquin and Kenneth Lonergan on the set of MARGARET. PHOTOS BY: Myles Aronowitz

DEMAND IT actually has already become the mantra for the dedicated, cult-like gang of movie critics, fellow filmmakers, actors and the few viewers who somehow found out MARGARET had a limited, practically nonexistent, theatrical release. The above-united did get MARGARET on a few other big screens before the film was pushed to ancillary opportunities.

Still waiting for the review to begin, huh…. Okay, then here is one humble opinion.

MARGARET is not, by design, a conventional feature film. The story centers on Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), a precocious, pretentious New York City seventeen year old, whose youthful exuberance indirectly causes a bus accident that claims the life of Monica (Allison Janney), a middle-aged woman. Confused, Lisa lies to the police about how the event unfolded so blame doesn’t shift solely to the bus driver (Mark Ruffalo). After meeting Monica’s best friend, Emily (Jennie Berlin), and learning a little about who Monica was, Lisa wants to right her mistake and tries to get the dangerous bus driver off the streets by vociferously helping to push a lawsuit through against the MTA.


Mark Ruffalo, MARGARET. PHOTOS BY: Myles Aronowitz

The plot, however, is not the driving force of the film. Apart from the wonderfully executed, dramatic accident/death scene, the core storyline meanders through Lisa’s day-to-day dealings with: her divorced mother, Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), a stage actress on the verge of success; Joan’s new relationship with Colombian businessman, Ramon (Jean Reno); fellow-students with whom Lisa is friends, has heated classroom viewpoint clashes and to whom she looses her virginity (that would be to Kieran Culkin); teachers (notably Matthew Broderick and Matt Damon) and her screen-writer father (played by Kenneth Lonergan) who lives with his new wife in LA.

It is this multitude of characters that compels and urges the viewer onward. 2 ½ hours may sound like a lengthy running time, but for the amount of story threads to follow, it actually feels as though the characters have been somewhat cheated. Thankfully the performances, under the clear, thoughtful guidance of Mr. Lonergran, are nothing short of tremendous and allow a little give to fill in the blanks off-screen.

Anna Paquin impresses with her ability to carry this movie in such a challenging role. She hits the intellectualized, overconfident notes of the privileged, NYC private school teen perfectly and plausibly uses only those traits to tackle her character’s very difficult adult situations. But Lisa represents the volatile age group already tagged for severe histrionics and parent-hating over the inconsequential, let alone something sincerely tragic – so it’s hard to tell if Lisa has really grown as a person through this specific life-taking event or if she would be as reactionary to any form or internal consternation.


Anna Paquin (C) as “Lisa Cohen” on the set of MARGARET. PHOTOS BY: Myles Aronowitz


Understanding MARGARET’s namesake adds welcome dimension to Lisa’s character. The title is taken from Gerard Manley Hopkin’s lyrically beautiful poem, “Spring and Fall”

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep & know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Like Hopkin’s Margaret, Lisa’s youth prevents her from understanding why she reacts so dramatically to Monica’s death and only time will unveil that it is actually her own mortality she mourns.


Anna Paquin (C) as “Lisa Cohen” on the set of MARGARET. PHOTOS BY: Myles Aronowitz

New York City plays a prominent role in MARGARET. Mr. Lonergran captures the unique ambiance of daily life in NYC that underscores Lisa’s constant frustration of not being able to accomplish her goal of getting the bus driver fired. Lisa is confounded by not being able to control the vast, crowded, complicated world that surrounds her, in the same way she is so easily able manipulate things and people in her sheltered, teenage microcosmic existence.

It is also helpful to note that MARGARET was developed and completed in the wake of 9/11. Character frustration runs rampant as every character, not just Lisa, tries to make sense of the post 9/11 world and how they fit in it. The constant frustration doesn’t weigh MARGARET down with the censure of “dated material” but hopefully completes the bigger picture, filling in spaces where viewers may also be frustrated by lack of character development or drops in plot progression.


Anna Paquin (C) as “Lisa Cohen” on the set of MARGARET. PHOTOS BY: Myles Aronowitz

Although not a flawless film, with directorial ambitions that can get in the way of feeling fully satisfied, MARGARET does satiate and Kenneth Lonergran’s masterful, patient approach to filmmaking is refreshing and relevant.

Representing 11 years in the making, 3 lawsuits (resulting in at least 3 different cuts) and a singular talent, it’s worth mentioning one more time: DEMAND IT.




- Melissa Chesman


Melissa Chesman
Melissa Chesman is a new contributing writer to On Demand Weekly. Currently she is a freelance writer/producer and VP of Development for New York City based production company, Raw Digital. Formerly, Melissa has been a production, development and marketing executive for many NYC based companies such as: Fine Line Features, New Line Cinema, Redeemable Features and Chimera Films.

MARGARET (Fox Searchlight) can be found on demand.


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