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
Above the hat of the toy gibbon, artist Mark Roscoe included a ‘ghost of a bird’ and a hidden message
art
Arts and Entertainment
Alien: Resurrection, Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder
film
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable