It’s been a long and completely self-inflicted struggle for writer-director Kenneth Lonergan to get his New York epic Margaret to theaters. Known for his award-winning 2000 film You Can Count on Me, and as the author of screenplays like Analyze This and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Lonergan found himself unable to edit Margaret down to a contractually obligated 150-minute running time. His eventually sought help from Scorsese and several other filmmakers in cutting it down—and failed. Years later (believe it or not, the movie was shot in 2005) and after at least three lawsuits between Lonergan and the film’s producers, the hugely ambitious Margaret has finally limped into theaters in a 2-1/2-hour version that Lonergan has not whole-heartedly endorsed.
The movie’s tale of a self-obsessed Upper West Side teenager, who believes she has caused an accidental death and struggles to make amends, tries to cover too much thematic territory and scurries down several dead-end streets. Or does it? Maybe Lonergan was right about the length. This long movie actually feels too short to get across all it has to say. Anna Paquin (who’s now grown up and starring in HBO’s True Blood) positively nails the smug self-righteousness of youth, and there are lots of great performances and memorable moments here. It just doesn’t all add up like it should. Even so, this version of Margaret may be the sharpest film portrait so far of post-9/11 Manhattan. The truth is we’re looking forward to the four-hour director’s cut that will surely come out on DVD one day. It just might be a classic.
Margaret begins a one-week run today, March 30th, at Chalmette Movies, 8700 W. Judge Perez Dr. in Chalmette.