In the film-review show “Movies 101” that I do (with my wife, Mary Pat Treuthart, and, usually, Nathan Weinbender), I had the job of introducing Kenneth Lonergan's movie “Margaret,” which was filmed in 2005 but not released until last year. Here is what I had to say:
“Margaret” – or, as the pedantic high-school English teacher played by Matthew Broderick pronounces it, “Marga-RET” – is one of the most penetrating, all-inclusive, confusing and confounding and depressing but bearing-just-the-least-smidgeon-of-hope studies of teen angst I have ever seen.
Our progatonist, Lisa – played convincingly by then-22-year-old Anna Paquin – is a smart, though inexperienced girl living with her actress mother in an exclusive part of Manhattan. Thanks largely to the money made by her somehow-involved-in-the-film-industry father (played by the film’s writer-director Kenneth Lonergan), she attends an exclusive college-prep high school.
But the film isn’t a dozen minutes old before Lisa witnesses, is actually tangentially involved in, a fatal bus accident. In her interview with the investigating police officer, for reasons she herself doesn’t really understand, she lies. Over the next two hours – or what seems like three days – Lisa wanders here and there, asking one adult after the next whether she had done the right thing.
And they all, each for his or her own reasons, fail her. This includes the understanding teacher played by Matt Damon and the friend of the dead woman played by Jeannie Berlin.
So we are left with this version of a young girl, lurching toward her future, largely going it alone emotionally. A clue to understanding what Lonergan means to say in “Margaret” may be found in a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that the Broderick character recites to his class:
Click here to read the poem in its entirety.
If you can apply Hopkins' poem to the film, then Longergan is talking about lost youth and an adolescent’s emotional reaction to an experience she doesn’t remotely have the sophistication to understand. Whatever, watching “Margaret” is exhausting. But, in the end, seriously, I found it enthralling.