Margaret (R16)

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Review byMatthew Turner7/12/2011

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 150 mins

Impressively directed and superbly written, this is a powerfully emotional drama with an Oscar-worthy central performance from Anna Paquin.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan (whose previous film was 2000's wonderful You Can Count On Me), Margaret is set in 2005 New York and stars Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen, a New York teenager who lives with her younger brother Curtis (Cyrus Hemstadt) and her actress mother Joan (Lonergan's wife, J. Smith-Cameron) and attends a prestigious school thanks to a half-scholarship. However, while out looking for a cowboy hat, Lisa inadvertently causes the death of a woman (Allison Janney) in a horrific traffic accident after she distracts the cowboy-hat-wearing bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) and he runs a red light while the woman is crossing the street.

When Lisa tells her story to the police, she impulsively decides to protect the bus driver (and herself) in her statement but her guilt eats away at her and affects both her day-to-day life and her relationships with her friends, family and teachers. When Lisa's behaviour results in a series of personal disasters, she eventually resolves to put things right, but the course of doing the right thing proves increasingly complicated.

The Good
To give some idea of how long Margaret has been in limbo, its producers include both Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack (both now deceased) and there's also a scene set outside a New York cinema that's showing both Flightplan and Serenity, so although the film was intended to be contemporary (it's set in an obviously fractious post-9/11 New York) it has ended up as something quite different (it's worth noting though that when Lisa expresses her disapproval of the President, she's talking about Bush, not Obama).

Anna Paquin is magnificent as Lisa, delivering a powerful portrayal of a confused and volatile teenager who can only express her emotions as anger and self-destructive behaviour. J. Smith-Cameron is equally good as Lisa's mother and there's strong support from Jean Reno (as Joan's boyfriend), Jeannie Berlin (as the dead woman's best friend), Mark Ruffalo (who makes a strong impact despite only appearing in a couple of scenes) and Matt Damon as a kindly teacher Lisa has an inappropriate crush on.

The Great
It's fair to say that at two and a half hours long, Margaret represents something of a commitment, but the rewards are extremely rich, thanks to a riveting script that's both thought-provoking and powerfully emotional.

Worth seeing?
Margaret is an impressively directed, powerfully moving coming-of-age drama with a terrific central performance from Anna Paquin. Here's hoping it doesn't take Lonergan this long to make his next film. Highly recommended and one of the best films of the year.

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Margaret (R16)
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Content updated: 19/11/2019 05:50

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