Thursday, 23 August 2012
As far as American films are concerned, Margaret is unique. At about two and a half hours of duration, it is long; it is slow, featuring careful camera positioning and long cuts; it lets the actors do their thing in complicated scenes without ramming them with soundtrack music; and in many respects, it is themed after the opera format. I heard there was some controversy about this film; I don’t know what the story there was, but I am of the opinion Margaret should have received a much warmer place with us viewers than the stealthy way it has been going under our radar.
Anna Paquin plays Lisa Cohen, a spoiled Upper West Side New Yorker girl. She lives with her separated mother, a famous Broadway actress (J. Smith-Cameron), and her young brother; her father lives in California with another woman. Lisa is supposed to meet her father for some horseback activity, and being the woman she is she just has to get a suitable cowboy hat for the occasion. Alas, the only one she can find is on the head of a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo). The two tease one another, until our bus driver fails no notice the light turned red and hits a pedestrian. Lisa is with that pedestrian as she dies.
From this point onwards starts the opera of our Lisa as she contends with her guilt. At first she lies to the police in order to defend the bus driver, but with time the stress overwhelms her. It shows in her relationships with her school friends, her teachers (including Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick), and most of all her mother. The mother, on her part, is having to contend with her own loneliness, settling for a suitor that generally bores her (Jean Reno); dealing with Lisa and her issues is a bit too much for her.
The first thing I learned out of Margaret is that some of my favorite actors can actually act when allowed to. Anna Paquin clearly shows her Piano days’ Oscar was no childish coincidences; she pins the role of the annoying, over privileged adolescent perfectly. Everyone else does an excellent job portraying their abnormally round characters, too; my favourite was Reno. The point is that the platform of lengthy and complicated scenes works well and gets the best out of the actors.
Another point in favor of the film is its relative realism. For example, while Paquin is definitely an attractive woman, she is not glamorized to look like a doll; she looks like a real woman. Yes, Margaret is not your typical Hollywood production.
The drama created by the unique nature of Margaret will not grip you to your sit, but its unique nature should help you realize what good drama is all about. I wouldn’t want all films to be like Margaret, but I am grateful films like Margaret get made.
Best scene: There are probably a dozen scenes here that could have easily made it here. The one I liked the most involves Lisa’s mother masturbating her loneliness away, only to be interrupted by a Lisa that just cannot stand not receiving attention. The scene is shot in a way that prevents you from knowing who the victim is, at first, thus fuelling the atmosphere.
Overall: A highly recommended actors’ drama worthy of 3.5 out of 5 stars.