Shot in 2005—lead actress Anna Paquin, now 29, credibly plays a 17-year-old—Margaret was delayed first by the editing-room angst of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, then by a court battle between its producers over Lonergan's alleged inability to produce a "releasable" cut. Paquin plays Lisa, whose role in a fatal Upper West Side bus accident leads her to act out sexually, antagonize her self-absorbed single mom, and obsessively pursue retribution on behalf of the accident victim. But is this the stuff of trauma psychosis, or is it adolescence? Lonergan's remarkable mess of a movie—dryly funny, uniquely novelistic—spins on that ambiguity, dismantling the impulses and pretensions of the precocious Lisa with painful accuracy while making blatant allusions, both verbal and visual, to the omnipresent paranoia of just-post-9/11 New York. (I'd wager that 30 of Margaret's 150 minutes are devoted to portentous shots of skyline, airspace, and glass- and-steel exteriors.) Taking its title from the object of Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Spring and Fall," a poem musing on a child's heightened emotional state and obliviousness to the ephemerality of feelings, Margaret hits those themes a bit too hard—particularly in its second half, dominated by Lisa's mommy issues. It's less successful as a human drama than as a near-Brechtian exercise in what human drama looks and sounds like—a distanced but often car-crash-compelling portrait of a teen as an unfinished being.
Matt Damon (with Paquin) plays a concerned teacher.
Opens Fri., Jan. 27 at SIFF Cinema at the Uptown. Rated R. 150 minutes.