Matthew Broderick, Kenneth Lonergan Attend Screening of Margaret

Cast of Margaret
The cast of Margaret at Lincoln Center in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo

My beloved Film Society of Lincoln Center hosted the filmmaker and some of the cast of Margaret during its Film Comment Selects festival held February 17 to March 1, 2012. (Check out my article about the screening of James Franco’s film, My Own Private River, and my piece about the Q&A with the cast of Wanderlust during this fest.)

Kenneth Lonergan
Kenneth Lonergan takes in the applause after a screening of Margaret at Lincoln Center in New York | Melanie Votaw Photo

Margaret has been in the news quite a bit because it has been plagued by lawsuits and held up from release since it was shot in 2005. The true saga remains a mystery because writer/director/actor Kenneth Lonergan (Gangs of New York, Analyze This) has refused to tell the whole story. At Lincoln Center, he simply said that most of what has been reported has been inaccurate.

But let’s concentrate on the results. Criticism has been mixed regarding Margaret. Some have called it unfocused, “a 2-1/2-hour mess.” I disagree with this criticism and have remained haunted by the film since I saw it more than a week ago.

Since the protagonist is a teenage girl, played brilliantly in my opinion by Anna Paquin (The Piano, True Blood), and since I once was a teenage girl, the narrative strikes me as absolutely appropriate. Lonergan takes us on a journey with this girl after she suffers a horrific trauma. The haphazard, surprising events that follow feel very true to life. It’s an account of a young person trying to deal with something inconceivable, and she understandably bounces off the walls in the process.

Margaret reminded me of another movie – a favorite of mine – that most people don’t know, Twelve and Holding, which was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award in 2007. In that movie, a group of 12-year-olds cope in destructive ways with the death of a friend.

“What inspired this film was a story told to me by a girl I knew in high school,” Lonergan said. He was moved by the idea that someone so young was forced to deal with something so adult. The movie is set in New York, and Paquin plays a privileged, intelligent teen who is witness to a terrible accident, for which she feels partially responsible.

Other actors playing main characters in the film include Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, and J. Smith Cameron, who all attended the screening and Q&A. Paquin, Matt Damon, and Mark Ruffalo were absent at Lincoln Center (much to my disappointment). Lonergan, by the way, plays Paquin’s absentee father.

J. Smith Cameron and Anna Paquin in Margaret
Stephen Adley Guirgis, J. Smith Cameron, and Anna Paquin in Margaret. In a just world, Paquin would have been nominated for an Oscar for her performance. | Fox Searchlight Pictures

It turns out that Broderick and Lonergan went to high school together, and one of the classroom arguments depicted in the film really happened. A scene in which Paquin’s character and her friend smoke pot while sitting on a rock in Central Park is also apparently a true-to-life scenario from the men’s high school days. “That was us,” Lonergan said.

French actor Jean Reno was very pleased to be involved with the production. Rather than the heavies he often plays in American movies, he portrays a somewhat romantic character in this film. “I have not often scripts in my hand of that quality,” Reno said of Margaret, in slightly broken English.

“Margaret” is not, by the way, the title character of the film. Paquin’s character is actually named Lisa. “Margaret” refers to a name mentioned in a poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins that is evoked toward the end of the movie. “That’s one of the three poems I know,” Lonergan chuckled. “It seemed to me to be essentially what the script was about.” The poem begins: “Margaret, are you grieving, Over Goldengrove unleaving?”

Grief and guilt make us do strange things that don’t always follow a clean and clear narrative thread. If you find heart-wrenching accounts of real human drama cathartic and interesting, see Margaret. If you’re like me, it will stay with you for a long time.


15 responses to “Matthew Broderick, Kenneth Lonergan Attend Screening of Margaret”

  1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

    Anna Paquin is SUCH a great actress, and even though this film sounds dark, I’d consider seeing it just for her and the rest of the great cast. I just have to be in the right frame of mind for emotional films like this one.

  2. Connie Avatar

    This sounds like it would be a film that would get under my skin if I watched it.

    1. Jane Boursaw Avatar

      Connie – That’s me, too. These are the types of movies that haunt me. Even though they’re wonderfully produced, directed and acted, I tend to shy away from them.

      1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

        I should say that while I’ve thought about the movie a lot since I saw it, I’m not having nightmares or disturbed by it significantly. It’s just one of those movies that really makes you think. And I really am very sensitive, so I don’t think anyone should fear seeing it.

        1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

          Frankly, though, I think the trailer gives too much away.

  3. Living Large Avatar

    I’m glad to read a positive review of this movie. Love Anna Paquin, too.

  4. Alexandra Avatar

    Another fan of Anna Paquin here. I don’t understand why she would not be nominated for an Oscar. I had never heard of this film and will look for it in theaters near me. Thanks!

    1. Melanie Votaw Avatar

      The film has had a lot of problems. The word is that Fox Searchlight did not support Lonergan’s edits and wouldn’t release it. In his comments the evening of the Q&A, he said that for him, it was a similar process as all films in terms of getting them in final form, but this one was shot in 2005. That’s a much longer time than most films take from shooting to screen. Even so, the movie isn’t getting a lot of time in theaters, which is why so many people don’t know about it. So, that’s why Anna will probably not get nominated, although I suppose it might still be eligible. Not sure.

  5. ruth pennebaker Avatar

    This looks intriguing. Thanks for the heads-up; small movies like this can get overlooked so easily.

  6. Vera Marie Badertscher Avatar

    I’ll look for it, and hope if I miss it that I can get it on DVD later. I’m with you in liking movies that stay with me rather than those that evaporate by the time you’re back in the parking lot.

  7. MyKidsEatSquid Avatar

    I hadn’t heard of this film either–but what a cast. That reminds me that the film festival is coming to my town next week

  8. Paul Blackburn Avatar
    Paul Blackburn

    It’s great to see such major actors in a small movie.

  9. melanievotaw Avatar

    @TCFF Thanks for quoting me re: “Margaret.”

  10. artsgene Avatar

    I thought this movie was so incredibly deep and powerful. I also feel that while a young girl is the movie’s character, maybe Lonergan  was inspired by his friend Broderick’s experience, who has his own brush with a fatal accident and guilt. Something like that changes people who live with the trauma long afterward.  Looking at it that way makes the movie even more interesting and relevant to me.  Lonergan is such a fantastic writer but I wish his projects didn’t take as long to develop. However, I suppose that is part of what makes them so great in the end.  Bravo!

  11. […] For narrative films, one of the jurors is playwright and filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan, whose recent film, “Margaret,” was an intense vehicle for Anna Paquin (read my report on the film’s Q&A at Lincoln Center). […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *