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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Margaret

This coming Friday (or, well, Thursday presumably, what with Easter and whatnot) we have a number of noteworthy films coming out but, before I get to the five or so releases that I want to talk about, lets just finish off last week's new movies with Margaret - a film that spent half a decade in the editing suite alone. 


It's tempting to simply write Margaret off as an irredeemably awful exercise in self-indulgence - which it is - but it's not often that a film comes along where its sheer badness is actually something worth examining, something that is in many ways the most interesting thing about it. This isn't a Project X or a Born To Be A Star: The Bucky Larson Story where the film's failings are obvious and are clearly the work of the kind of unimaginative, creatively-bankrupt idiots that give mainstream Hollywood a bad name. No, this a film with a potently effective premise (girl tries to come to terms with the part she played in the death of an innocent woman), a top-notch cast (Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Alison Janney, Matthew Broderick and an excellent lead performance from a pre-True Blood Anna Paquin) and a director whose previous work was widely acclaimed and whose heart, in making this film, was very clearly in the right place. And yet, for all of this, it's an excruciatingly bad misfire, the likes of which we haven't seen since M Night Shayamalan torched his career with the similarly mind-boggingly awful, Lady In The Water.

Of course, when you consider the film's history, it's not particularly surprising that it is such a train wreck. Originally shot back in 2005, Margaret has spent the last six years being edited, re-edited, re-re-edited and re-re-re-edited again. Director Kenneth Lonergan could not get a cut of it with which he was even remotely happy, no matter how many times he re-edited the footage and since then, it has been passed from editor to editor to try and do something with the hours of film he shot - including none other than Martin Scorsese. Now that they finally got a version of the film out there (I've heard rumblings that Lonergan wants to release a full 6-hour cut of the film), it clearly need another five years to be re-edited into something usable.

What we have instead is a 2.5 hour-long movie that contains either one hour of story of fifteen hours of story, depending on how you look at it. The primary story is under-developed as it is but, to make matters worse, it is also constantly derailed by a thousand subplots (and I may not be exaggerating), most of which clearly want to be in an entirely different film. In particular, 9/11 looms large over much of the film and there are several lengthy discussions about the nature of terrorism and, of course, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (all because the main character is "half Jewish") but they never amount to anything other than pointless, self-indulgent diversions.

And that, right there is the problem - the fatal problem - with the film. It constantly and at every turn undermines itself by not having faith in the potential of its own subject matter. As a result, what should have been an intriguing character study about a very broken - and lets not kid, rather unlikable - young woman trying to come to terms with her own guilt in a horrific accident ends up as a tedious, infuriating and incoherent mess that overstays its welcome by at least an hour. Lonegan hasn't returned to filmmaking since trying to put Margaret together and I can only hope that when he returns its with a co-writer, even a co-director to keep his indulgent meanderings and endless tangents at bay.


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