+++ Opinion +++
In August 2016, BBC Culture published a list of the 100 best films of the 21st century. Modern classics (“Mulholland Drive” at number 1, “In The Mood For Love’ to 2), hits with audiences (‘WALL-E’, ‘The Dark Knight“) and hardcore festival cinema. Right in the middle, even at number 31, is “Margaret”. A film that will probably raise a question mark on the forehead of some established film fans – at least in Germany.
In 2011, the drama of the later “Manchester By The Sea” director Kenneth Lonergan came to American cinemas. Filming was five years ago. But Lonergan struggled to make a final cut. His first attempt lasted a good three hours. The producers wanted no more than 150 minutes. Even a 165-minute edited version by none other than Martin Scorsese didn’t help. A dispute ensued in court. A two and a half hour version finally came to the cinema. You can also see them on Disney+.
›› “Margaret” on Disney+*
In this country, “Margaret” was never released in cinemas, but was released directly on DVD in 2012. There isn’t even a German-language Wikipedia entry for the film! And that despite a very prominent cast. Joining X-Men star Anna Paquin are MCU Hulk Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon (“Good Will Hunting”), Matthew Broderick (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), Kieran Culkin (“Succession”) and Jean Reno (“Leon: The Professional”).
17-year-old New Yorker Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) wants to buy a cowboy hat in New York. When she sees a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) wearing the same hat, she wants to stop him to ask where he bought the hat. The driver is distracted and overlooks a red traffic light. He runs over a woman. She dies in Lisa’s arms.
In her first statement to the police, Lisa still claims that the traffic light for the bus showed green – to protect herself. But later she realizes her wrongdoing. She changes her statement and goes to see the bus driver. He doesn’t want to know anything about complicity. This angers Lisa so much that she wants to go to court with a friend of the dead woman. She wants the bus driver, who has already caused several accidents, to be literally pulled out of circulation.
Lisa’s moral dilemma and her legal fight for justice are the backbone of the story of “Margaret”. The accident and its aftermath serve as a catalyst for a coming-of-age story. As in many films of this genre, the main character is confronted with death and thus with the transience of life. She learns to take responsibility for her actions and to develop independence.
Anna Paquin delivers a memorable performance as a privileged but reflective student. Her Lisa Cohen is one of the most flamboyant and at the same time most believable teen characters in coming-of-age history. She is stubborn to the point of stubbornness and extremely erratic. She describes herself as a bundle of “chaotic impulses”.
At the same time, she is also empathetic, socially minded and comes across as very mature. She is designed throughout as an ambivalent character, even with irritating features. Shortly after the accident, she coke at a party and makes out with a taken guy. Nevertheless, the production never denounces the heroine and never presents her actions as pure escapades of her feelings of guilt. Lisa is just contradictory.
As in “Manchester By The Sea,” Kenneth Lonergan delivers a powerful crime-and-punishment story. It’s also about how you can go on living when you have someone else’s death on your conscience. Like its spiritual successor, starring Casey Affleck, “Margaret” oscillates between melodramatic, realistic, and even comical moments. Sometimes even within a scene. The accident, for example, has almost grotesque features due to the confusion of the victim.
However, “Margaret” is not without its weaknesses either: some of the storylines, such as the love story of Lisa’s mother, take up too much space, although they don’t contribute much to the core conflict. Other aspects, such as the central story surrounding the accident, are neglected given its tragic dimensions.
The Director’s Cut, which is much longer at 186 minutes, doesn’t change anything, as Lonergan delivered in 2012. But that doesn’t matter much. “Margaret” is just as erratic, unfocused and sympathetically imperfect as its heroine – and thus unfolds its very own pull.
The DashFUN review gave the drama available on Disney+ an outstanding rating of 4.5 stars:
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