Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan, 150 mins (15)

4.00

Four hours long, six years in the editing room...an accident waiting to happen. And yet it works

Ten years ago, Kenneth Lonergan was one of the most exciting new writer-directors around.

His first film, You Can Count on Me, was a double Oscar-nominee, and he had a hit play, This is Our Youth, running in the West End. At the time, you would have predicted a career for him along the lines of Alexander Payne's, so it's a shame that it took him a decade to make his second film, Margaret. Except that it didn't. Lonergan actually shot Margaret in 2005, and he and his financiers have been wrangling over the final edit ever since. Apparently, Lonergan favoured a four-hour version, the investors didn't, and the film that's limping out now is a two-and-a-half-hour compromise. It becomes obvious how long it's been sitting around when you note that its star, Anna Paquin (now 29), is playing a schoolgirl.

Specifically, she's playing a confident 17-year-old pupil at a Manhattan private school, someone whose most stressful problem is where to find the ideal cowboy hat for a pony-trekking holiday. And even this seems solvable when she spots the perfect hat being worn by a bus driver, Mark Ruffalo. She tries to attract his attention, but succeeds so well that Ruffalo jumps a red light and kills a woman who was crossing the road. Wary of incriminating Ruffalo, and herself, Paquin tells the police that the traffic lights were green, but later wonders whether she should amend her statement. The adults she consults aren't much help. Her mother (Lonergan's wife, J Smith-Cameron) is preoccupied by the play she's starring in, while her father (Lonergan himself) restricts his phone calls from California to "the boyfriend situation".

But Margaret is an unusual film in that it can't be summed up in a couple of sentences, or even paragraphs. As well as examining Paquin's moral dilemma, it explores what else is going on in her life, as she teeters between girlhood and womanhood. And then it explores the lives of the other characters, too, every one of whom has a history and a personality of their own. Maybe it's the film's broad scope that gave Lonergan such a headache in the editing suite. Even if you didn't know about the production's troubled gestation, you'd notice that it dawdles in some places and rushes in others. You'd also notice the subplots which appear to be missing crucial scenes, one involving a maths teacher, Matt Damon, and one involving a cool schoolmate, Kieran Culkin. Personally, I wouldn't have minded if Margaret had been half an hour longer, but given that it ended up being shorter than the film Lonergan envisaged, it probably should have been shorter still, with some of the supporting cast excised altogether.

Having said that, Margaret is less about plot mechanics than about the virtuosity of the dialogue, the complexity of the characters, and the detail and depth of their untidy world. The arguments between Paquin and Smith-Cameron, for instance, are so sparky and authentic that you can enjoy them much as you'd enjoy the song and dance numbers in a musical, without caring how they relate to the story. For all its flaws, Margaret is a big, serious, unashamedly intelligent film – in part a compassionate study of metropolitan alienation, in part an acute teen comedy, in part a punchy legal drama, and almost definitely the only movie this year to address the etiquette of shouting "brava" at the end of an opera. If it's a failure, in that neither Lonergan nor its studio is happy with it, then I wish all failures were as richly rewarding. I wish all successes were as richly rewarding, too.

Next Week:

Nicholas Barber sees Another Earth, this year's second existential drama about a planet looming above our own

Also Showing: 04/12/2011:

Las Acacias (84 mins, 12A)

Low-key Argentinian road movie in which a lorry driver reluctantly gives a lift to a woman and her baby, and finds himself warming to them as they cover the dusty miles between Patagonia and Buenos Aires. Touching, eventually.

The Thing (103 mins, 15)

Reverential prequel to John Carpenter's much-loved monster movie, featuring a wonderfully disgusting beastie.

The Big Year (100 mins, PG)

Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black compete in a year-long, cross-country bird-watching contest. And by the end of this insipid film I felt as if a whole year had passed.

Happy Feet Two (88 mins, U)

Not your average 3D cartoon sequel, the bizarre Happy Feet Two is more like a bloated 1970s rock opera.

Romantics Anonymous (75 mins, 12A)

Jaunty romantic comedy about two chronically shy chocolatiers.

We Have a Pope (104 mins, PG)

In Nanni Moretti's whimsical comedy, an aged cardinal is appointed Pope, and immediately realises he's not up to the job.

Surviving Life (105 mins, 15)

A man who meets his dream woman...but only in his dreams. Freudian animation by Jan Svankmajer.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones