I AVOID answering the question, what’s the best film I’ve ever seen, but along with the 16 hours of “Heimat”, “Margaret” is high on my list of most “rememberable” films.
A meticulous, intelligent, literate, uncompromising screenplay offers a superb cast the opportunity to shine in an exposition of emotions, relationships and dramatic energy in a visual statement that explains New York’s ethos with fresh credibility.
Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan took the short poem “Margaret” by Gerard Manley Hopkins for the rock upon he built this profound study of coming of age combined with the melancholy still burdening New York in 2003 (when he wrote the screenplay; it was shot in 2005).
Anna Paquin plays Lisa, living with her actress divorced mother and younger brother in middle-class comfort on the upper West Side. Because of the disconnect between school and theatre times, Lisa’s unaware of her mother’s loneliness and sexual yearning. Lisa cold-bloodedly engages a classmate to terminate her own virginity.
Lisa inadvertently causes a bus to run a red light and kill a woman returning from the supermarket. Her statement to police is evasive. Her insistence on trying to lay full blame on the driver is discomforting. She embarks on an odyssey to expiate her conscience by bringing legal proceedings against the bus driver (building a sidebar about the American justice system, ignoring responsibility and focusing retribution on monetary damages).
“Margaret” is 150 minutes of powerful cinema with an unfortunate contra-heroine with a disturbed past and uncertain future. We can only hope the lessons from her experience might stick.