Margaret - DVD Review

'The syntax is unique and sometimes disorientating. Lonergan's script manages to largely eschew comforting cliché and his character interactions range from unexpected to awkward.'

Margaret is a paradox. A rambling, multi-layered narrative, which trundles on to over three hours, mixing simple ideas and spooning in subtext, all over the top of a protagonist who is rarely likeable and often hateful. Yet, this is a film to be compelled by, to get lost in, to come out the other side bemused but eager to engage with, impressed and dishevelled in one go.

It's not that Margaret is hard to watch, save for the shocking accident near the beginning that sets the plot in motion. Kenneth Lonergan's film is long oft-dazed and distracted, and it will test your patience, but the drama, largely concerned with following Lisa (Anna Paquin) - an irony in itself seeing as many of the characters accuse her of being self-centred - is never too challenging, never too much to make you turn away. The syntax though is unique and sometimes disorientating. Lonergan's script manages to largely eschew comforting cliché and his character interactions range from unexpected to awkward.

The subtext, as many have suggested, seems clearly to be at least concerned in passing with New York and its recovery from the disaster and atrocity of 9/11. Frequent shots of planes meandering through the sky are obvious hints but the form of the story lends the theory more defined substance. Troubled by the disaster she witnesses Lisa at first shuts herself off, then turns to close family in the shape of her mother (the outstanding J. Smith-Cameron). Later, having apparently recovered, she struggles to find a way to deal with the incident, involving herself with the extrication of it, arguing with a classmate who is extremely similar to her but from a middle-eastern background, using it as a chaos-backing to make several typically-teenage bad decisions.

There are also clear ideas here surrounding the worth of acting as catharsis and the use of art as distraction. The entire film feels like a scene from something else in which a character puts on a classical piece of music and allows it to wash over them. That the finale comes close to being this very scene - notably the music is not a CD but performed live by musicians and actors - shows the essence of Lonergan's use of the arts as distraction and healing. Lisa tells people that her mother is 'in a play', as if that is the centre of the universe, whilst her mother tells someone at some point that Lisa has 'a lot of contempt for [acting]'. In essence they bring out yet more of the film's paradoxes; both are aware of their hidden emotions and both hate it, yet it is life and life must be acted as appropriate.

There are elements which don't work including forays that could easily have been cut - a challenge of youth over authority in an English class, an argument around the word 'strident' - and these contribute to a feeling that, sometimes, Lonergan does not know where his film is going. Yet, although the story feels untamed, the style is here in completeness. Margaret feels a film in control from the opening to the finale, long and ragged though that period is. It is a film of paradoxes, but they are often beautiful and inspired.



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