How can one possibly summarize writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s two hour and twenty nine minute Margaret, a noble, wayward, seismic, excruciating, boring, brilliant film that does not merely inject opera into its proceedings to class up the joint but to illustrate its own insane attempt to encapsulate the entire spectrum of an operatically angsty teenage existence in its run time?
How can one possibly describe Anna Paquin, gallantly playing self-involved, as Lisa, a prototypical teenage brat with a big mouth (she can toss off a “totally” and a “strident” and a “c-word” in the same sentence!), a fashion sense that seems more in-tune to a college campus hussy and an attitude that eternally suggests she feels misunderstood even though she can’t even begin to understand herself? She routinely finds herself in classroom political discourse (read: screeching matches). She is courted by young Darren (John Gallagher Jr.), who is tragically destined to become a movie blogger living in Chicago who likes Bruce Springsteen and Lady Gaga, but loses her virginity by her own demand to artsy, aloof Paul (Kieran Culkin) all while possibly pining for her geometry teacher (Matt Damon) whose stance as a pushover is just demanding to be taken advantage of. She barely communicates with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron) whose big Broadway play takes precedence over the fact her daughter just witnessed (and possibly caused) a bus accident that took the life of Monica (Allison Janney) who Lisa held in her arms as she lived out her final moments.
To what degree do I need to go to describe how drawn out and distressing the bloody aftermath of this bus accident is? And what metaphor do I employ to communicate the manner in which Lonergan sets aside this most consequential story detail to focus on Lisa’s various youthful dilemmas before eventually returning in full to this most consequential story detail while kind of forgetting about Lisa’s various youthful dilemmas, but not completely?
Because it’s just not possible to discuss Margaret without also discussing the Tolstoy-sized syllabus that goes along with this movie in regards to its troubled (understatement of the year) production. A production that completed filming all the way back in 2005 only to run aground in the editing room where Lonergan became victim of a nasty case of editor’s block, turning to producers Scott Rudin and the late Sydney Pollack and then the legendary Thelma Schoonmaker for much needed assistance none of which yielded a finished film which led to the studio cutting financing which led to Lonergan taking a loan from his co-star (and real life friend) Matthew Broderick to finish cutting the film which led to lawsuits which finally led Fox Searchlight to give it a limited and scattered relase.
In what fashion can one possibly, appropriately dismiss Lonergan’s maddeningly heavy-handed symbolism in the literature class taught by Matthew Broderick’s Mr. Van Tassel that hammers home the idea that the gods watching from their celestial perches merely scoff at us humans and our problems like the useless dollops of pigeon crap we are (his class also helpfully provides the movie its title) without getting so angry you just want to start ripping the fleece out of innocent persons’ coats?
Is one review possibly enough space to try and summarize how Lonergan’s ambition steamrolls his finesse? How he piles on subplots that aren’t really subplots but disjointed bits and pieces of a disjointed life? How a film already infamous before its release for its insane editing process distinctly comes across like an insanely edited film with scenes that halt abruptly (what did Rosemarie DeWitt call Anna Paquin?! She said something! I could see her mouth moving!) and Malick-esque montages that appear out of a virtual plume of smoke to cover up who-knows-what and a third act that is the herky jerky and littered with litigation babble, pushing Paquin’s line readings and endless screaming matches with her mother and her mother figure and her teachers and her classmates to ear-shattering decibels.
HOW?! HOW DO I DESCRIBE ANY OF THIS?!
How about this? As the film progresses before your eyes you can imagine Kenneth Lonergan sitting in an editing bay like Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the H-4 Hercules trying with all his might to get his enormous endeavor to somehow achieve flight.