Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan's second film, took six years to get here; after his breakout You Can Count On Me in 2000, Lonergan could was embraced and sponsored by the Indiewood elite-;including two since-deceased producers, credited here—to make this film, about a private high schooler whose unintended involvement in a tragic bus accident spurs a self-destructive quest for meaning. Countless re-edits and two long lawsuits later, here’s the story: Anna Paquin’s character Lisa is so shaken with guilt and confusion that she resolves to file a lawsuit that’ll bar Mark Ruffalo (the bus driver) from the MTA forever.
A two and-a-half-hour movie set almost exclusively in the Upper West Side can only feel claustrophobic, but that’s probably not entirely accidental. Lonergan has some effectively ominous long pans up and across skyscrapers, apartment buildings, clouds, and airplanes. But Margaret belongs to Paquin (2005 vintage), and her journey is a kvetching, literal-minded checklist of whoopin’-and-hollerin’ about racism, the War on Terror, teen sex, drugs, Israel, Palestine, divorce, death, the NYPD, the justice system$-;essentially, everything but taxes. (Intriguingly, Lonergan portrays her distant, Hollywood-stuck father.) Lisa is a walking metaphor for post-9/11 America; maybe watching her is supposed to as nauseating as those pans, but melancholy ages better than hysteria.
In the service of mood over topicality, Lonergan also has a knack for photographing actors like real human beings, without cutting or going off-tripod, and it helps his verbose script speak for itself. Best is J. Smith Cameron as Lisa’s mother, a 50something stage actress trying to balance her career and her kids. She has a hard-earned, winning love story with Jean Reno, here playing a widowed South American IT magnate(!). The deck is stacked against them, but their story ends up saying everything the bulk of the movie aspires to-;only, soberly and tenderly.