Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Waiting for Margaret

While promoting The Iron Lady in Berlin earlier this month, Oscar hot ticket Meryl Streep bemoaned the shortcomings of the awards season and its lamentable tendency to ultimately focus upon a very narrow field of contenders – a damn shame, it should be noted, in a truly standout year for female performances. One turn in particular impressed Streep: "Anna Paquin made a film called Margaret that very few people have seen. In any other year, it would have won every single award".

We’re with Meryl on this one: Paquin’s incandescent performance in Margaret (continueas exclusively at the IFI until March 8th) is indeed something truly remarkable to behold - the finest screen work to date from a performer who, lest we forget, bagged a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, aged eleven, for her film debut in Jane Campion’s The Piano. As for the film itself, well, it’s a Manhattan-based coming-of-age tale, positively infused to the core with post-9/11 anxiety, not to mention one of the most intriguing American movies of recent years, an ambitious work that frequently flirts with disaster, and emerges a masterpiece. It demands a second viewing. And possibly another after that.

There’s a very good reason, however, that Margaret remains a movie that, as Meryl puts it, ‘very few people have seen’ – its release is sorely belated, to say the least. Writer and director Kenneth Lonergan’s film, his eagerly anticipated second feature following the sublime You Can Count On Me, was shot in 2005 and originally scheduled to premiere in 2007: a seemingly irreconcilable difference of opinion between Lonergan and Fox Searchlight Pictures, who financed the picture, resulted in a legal stand-off that dragged on for some years, and at various points threatened to abort its release entirely. An impasse has been reached, and Margaret, we’re delighted to note, screens at the IFI for a limited period from February 24th. We heartily recommend that you avail of the welcome opportunity to catch it on the big screen.

The main source of contention was reportedly the film’s running time: Fox insisted upon a running time of no longer than 150 minutes, while the filmmaker’s preferred cut ran closer to three hours. It’s telling that the version that Irish cinemagoers will finally see this month, although officially endorsed by Kenneth Lonergan, runs exactly 150 minutes on the nose. It’s been suggested that this cut was supervised by Martin Scorsese, for whom Lonergan penned Gangs Of New York – even in a compromised form, Margaret is an extraordinary work, albeit one that leaves the tantalising prospect of a Director’s Cut further down the line. Tales of creative disputes between studios and filmmakers – usually resulting in the martyrdom of the misunderstood mad genius behind the camera – are as old as Hollywood itself, from Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. In this case, it’s the same old story: Fox gave Margaret a perfunctory run in a few major US cities, with a minimum of publicity, until a web-based grass roots campaign, coupled with the protests of several noteworthy US critics (themselves an endangered species these days), kick-started a movement, of sorts; slowly, steadily, the film continues to accumulate fervent champions, your humble correspondent included.

Matt Damon and Anna Paquin in Margaret

As it stands, Margaret already offers an intriguing time capsule of sorts, capturing as it does an era when serious-minded American artists struggled to articulate the profound existential dread infusing the culture following the events of 9/11. It also captures a cast who have already subjected themselves to the merciless vicissitudes of time, from Paquin – better known these days as the sultry Sookie Stackhouse in small-screen smash True Blood – to co-star Matt Damon, who in subsequent projects like The Informant and We Bought A Zoo has already gamely embraced middle-age. Here, the sight of their notably younger selves, forever frozen in time, offers a poignant reminder of film’s immortality: sure, people get older, but hey – movies last forever.

Margaret offers the thrill of discovery that any movie lover feels when they happen across (or better still, seek out) a neglected work, a misunderstood celluloid orphan seeking refuge in your dark little heart. Kenneth Lonergan himself maintained a dignified silence throughout his prolonged artistic ordeal; if at all possible, we suggest you see the film and pay your utmost respects. His struggles have not been in vain.

Derek O'Connor

Margaret is opening at the IFI this Friday, February 24th - to book your tickets, contact our Box Office on 01 679 3477 or book online [here]. 

Watch The Trailer:


  1. Couldn't agree more - this film is a five course meal, compared to the usual quick sugar fix we get on screen. It's profound, complex, entertaining, important, superbly casted/acted/directed, stupendously-written... You need to see it.

  2. Glad you liked it Grainne.