Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan, 150 mins (15)


Four hours long, six years in the editing 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 Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'