In this film image released by Fox Searchlight Films, Anna Paquin, left, and Mark Ruffalo are shown in a scene from "Margaret." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight Films, Myles Aronowitz)
0 stars out of 4The first of many signs indicating that "Margaret" is both cursed and a total train wreck takes place during the opening credits. Two of the five listed producers -- Oscar-winning directors Anthony Mingella and Sidney Pollack -- both died in 2008. It's not often, but occasionally movies are released after a filmmaker or performer has passed, but three years after the fact ... that's very odd.
Halfway through the film's thoroughly uncalled for 149 minutes, the marquee of a movie theater features titles that came out in 2005 -- that was six years ago when "Margaret" was shot. There are also nearly a dozen female characters in the movie and none of them are named Margaret. The name is mentioned just once by a high school English teacher while reciting an obscure and arcane poem.
"Margaret" had a delayed release for a bunch of reasons that will only make sense to high-end entertainment lawyers. If it was really good -- or even good at all -- someone would have rescued it sooner. It is the product of a writer/director (Kenneth Lonergan) who let the acclaim of his first film ("You Can Count on Me") go to his head and then bit off way more than any viewer ever wanted to chew on his second outing.
This film is so bad on so many levels, it's hard to fathom. When Lonergan was legally removed from the post-production process, Martin Scorsese and his longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker were called on to fix it and even they couldn't repair the damage. That's saying a lot.
Where to start ... oddly enough, "Margaret" begins with lots of promise. Spoiled New York City high school student Lisa (Anna Paquin) is shopping for something she doesn't need but then sees it on the head of a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo). Thinking only of herself, Lisa tries to get the driver's attention and is successful, but he is actually driving at the time and then something really bad happens.
Both Lisa and the driver take the coward's way out when talking with the police and luckily their separate false stories jibe. Each walks away from the tragic situation without penalty or liability and what we've got is the makings of a halfway decent episode of "Law & Order" -- certainly not a 2 -1/2 hour feature film.
Lisa, partly out of guilt and realizing she missed out on her 15 minutes of fame, starts to reconsider her recollection of the event. She confronts the driver, changes her eyewitness statement and shares her plight with anyone that will listen. Whatever empathy we had for Lisa completely dissipates at this point and for the next 90 minutes she engages in various types of moribund behavior that would get her slapped silly and/or banished from polite society -- and that's even not the worst of it.
Well over half of the film includes static landscape shots and subplots that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the main story. One includes Lisa's mother's new boyfriend and her acclaimed off-Broadway play. Another has Lisa fervently arguing the finer points of the 9/11 attacks with a fellow student of Middle Eastern decent. Two more include her losing her virginity to a drug dealer she barely knows and seducing a teacher whose lack of will and common sense is stupefying.
As it builds to its (again unrelated) operatic climax, each scene grows in intensity and volume. Characters engage in screeching, bellicose, ear-splitting arguments that more resemble scream therapy or a bargain-basement actors' workshop. Two minutes of one scene consists entirely of two characters arguing over the definition and intent of the word "strident."
Lisa is one of the most off-putting lead characters (male or female) to come down the pike in some time and watching her go down in flames while taking everyone she knows with her is one of the most tortuous cinematic experiences any audience could possibly endure.
We're only nine months into it but this is by far the worst film of the century's second decade; nothing else even comes close. (Fox Searchlight)