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In the post-9/11 mileiu of fear, guilt and questioned responsibility, a high schooler (Anna Paquin) inadvertently causes a bus accident that kills a woman (Allison Janney.)  As she attempt to process her own feelings of guilt and trauma, she tries to seek justice for the woman’s family in a system and set of circumstances that resolutely refuse to yield nice clean consequences and results.

The production battles surrounding this film are quickly becoming the stuff of legend — it was filmed in 2006 (when Anna Paquin still resembled a teenager) but was longer than its production studio would allow it to be.  Kenneth Lonergan struggled for years to edit it without cutting its heart out; rumor has it even Martin Scorsese took a shot at it.  He finally got it down to 150 minutes, which is still pretty long.  It got a half-hearted limited release last year, and quickly disappared.  Now it’s out on DVD, with the original, much longer version on the accompanying Blu-Ray.

Here’s my advice: if you’re going to watch it, find a way to watch the longer version.  Oddly, the edited version feels shapeless and lumpy, while the longer version coheres much better — though it’s hard to pinpoint anything significant that got left on the cutting room floor.  But this is a movie all about mood and introspection, and you need those in-between shots.

Surprisingly, “Margaret” was actually kind of similar to “Magnolia,” in that both are long, refuse to adhere to a conventional plot structure, and often make it difficult for the viewer to hear the primary conversation, though in “Margaret” they are often drowned out by neighboring conversations, giving the sense of a living in a city with a thousand storylines unfolding.  Watching the long version did give me a better sense of what this movie is about, though I’m not sure why – the notable added scenes didn’t exactly add meaning.  I think there is a lot of post-9/11 angst going on, in a story about a tragedy that is partly her fault and partly the bus driver’s and partly just a senseless tragedy, and trying to pin the blame and make somebody pay, or repent, or do something.  Seeking black and white in a situation that just won’t permit it.  But also, and I think primarily, it’s about being a teenager, in a way the title belies – it’s from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, titled “Spring and Fall: to a Young Child”

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

In that it’s a film about a youth who is experience tragedy fresh, and the ways she rails against a world weary of tragedy.  To its credit, it doesn’t make Lisa the hero, or at least all that admirable, simply because she sees things with fresh eyes.  She’s often quite annoying, and the scene where Emily has had enough and yells at her that life is not an opera — probably the key scene in the film — is powerful and you nod along, agreeing that this girl needs to hear all this, in spite of the fact that it destroys her, reduces her to tears and retractions.  There’s a curious verbosity to the film, both in the way Lisa talks – prefacing everything with “this is probably going to sound ____ to you” or some similar disclaimer – which her mother also does.  There’s a lot to this film, and I guess that’s why it justifies its 3 hour run time.  I’ve watched it twice (the two versions) and would like to watch it again, in a few months.

Verdict: Recommended, if you’re in the mood for wrestling with an unwieldy film full of ideas and complicated emotions.  Definitely not for Friday-night popcorn flick consumption.


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  1. I LOVE BURN NOTICE’!! I know they film it in Miami / Miami Beach, but why is it being filmed in Los Angeles for it’s third ssaoen?? What’s up with that, or did I miss read something??

  2. Iran has a history of tcnohrirg people in custody’.. luk whos talking wth US is doin in Guantanamo is not hidden which no country in history has ever done plus US has a history 2 wipe out the entire nation n luk US itsself is a stolen land, stolen by killing the entire innocent population.

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