DVD Drop: Margaret, regained
Margaret -- the long held-up Kenneth Lonergan feature -- arrives on video this week
Anna Paquin in Margaret (Fox Searchlight)
So there's this movie by an Oscar-nominated filmmaker. Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Allison Janney and Rosemarie DeWitt are in it, along with a few other people you might recognize. Critics raved about it during its very short theatrical run last fall, but unless you were very, very lucky, you didn't get to see it on the big screen. It was gone in a week, yanked by a distributor that seemed determined to bury it.
That film is Margaret. Kenneth Lonergan shot it in 2005, the follow-up to his acclaimed debut You Can Count on Me. He'd spend the next six years trying to get it into theatres. Actually; it was closer to seven; the version released last fall by Fox Searchlight is two-and-a-half hours long, and meets the running-time requirement mandated by Lonergan's contract with the studio. But not until this week, when a 186-minute cut of the film arrives as a bonus DVD with the Blu-ray of the theatrical cut, has Margaret properly reflected its maker's intentions.
Now, movies get bogged down in post-production all the time, and the release of alternate cuts for the home-video market is fairly commonplace these days. (Comedies do it all the time, to amp up the marketing and restore scenes that were cut for theatrical pacing; every Judd Apatow's production seems to have eaten its twin in the editing room.)
But Margaret is a special case, both for the length of time it took for Lonergan's movie to surface and for the radical difference between the shorter and longer cuts. The editing process was so troubled that reporters are still sorting through a rat's nest of conflicting stories, lawsuits and countersuits. (Joel Lovell wrote a pretty great piece about it for The New York Times; I'd suggest you start with that.)
There's another factor that makes Margaret unique, and that's the time in which it was written. Lonergan started working on the script shortly after 9/11, and the horror of that period resonates through the text; the attacks on America aren't explicitly discussed, but they're a part of the agitated world in which Paquin's upper-class teen, Lisa Cohen, lives. The entire city is still working through the trauma, and not necessarily handling it all that well.
I would have thought the theme would seem dated in 2005, to say nothing of 2012, but instead Lonergan snaps us right back into the mindset of a world locked on hyper-alert. No one ever talks about it, but these are people with emergency bags packed and ready underneath their beds. Margaret exists in a constant state of preparation; not only the characters but the movie itself feels tense and ready to bolt. But when something awful does happen, it's not a city-wide disaster but something horribly intimate, and Lisa is so affected by it that her entire world is sent spinning out of balance.
If the version Lonergan grudgingly put into theatres is a compelling, emotionally ruthless study of a young woman grappling with a shocking trauma and the role she believes she played in it; the extended version expands that concern to her entire community, letting us better understand how the repercussions of that trauma reverberate throughout the city, touching unrelated characters in unexpected ways. Those added 36 minutes don't radically alter the narrative, but they make it feel much, much bigger.
Either way, in either cut, Margaret deserved to be seen by more people. It deserved to be seen, period. And now, finally, you can be part of that audience. Seriously, why are you still reading this? Go bring Margaret home.
E-mail Norman Wilner at firstname.lastname@example.org