MARGARET (the movie), are you grieving? Gerard Manley Hopkins, and KENNETH LONERGAN, too-

March 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

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MARGARET is a hard movie to watch.  I watched the director’s cut first, and then the theatre version.  I had to take time out between the two.  And default to the IMDb’s online summary to jump-start my review of this, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s brain child.  I was feeling wimpy.

Margaret centers on a 17-year-old New York City high-school student who feels certain that she inadvertently played a role in a traffic accident that has claimed a woman’s life. In her attempts to set things right she meets with opposition at every step. Torn apart with frustration, she begins emotionally brutalizing her family, her friends, her teachers, and most of all, herself. She has been confronted quite unexpectedly with a basic truth: that her youthful ideals are on a collision course against the realities and compromises of the adult world. Written by Anonymous

Great.  Except for the part where a summary can’t possibly capture the real time agony one experiences while watching this gutsy, gory, enthralling, enranging, tear jerking OPERATIC piece of film.

I’m not sure, in the end, that I liked it.  IT IS HARD TO LIKE.  Maybe because I was a girl and I am now a mother,  I relate to the roller-coaster emotions of being not just human but female, and wince and don’t want to relive them.  And MARGARET captures them all.

It captures teenage girls and the brutality of puberty and the irrationality of youth almost too well.  Almost unrealistically.

I understand that poor Mr. Lonergan wanted so badly to tell this tale well that he came upsides of the production company for taking too long at it and had to shorten it for theatres, and to his great artistic dismay.

“Dismay” is an apt word for MARGARET.  Also, “dismal”, “disturbing”, “direct.”  The movie “goes there” with an unthinkable accident; with the tragedy of a woman’s mistaking a girl with her daughter’s name for her own daughter as she fades into death; with the consequent lying and anger that accidents cause; and then with the FEMALE POWER games, like sap rising poisonously, which include sex with the wrong adult, remorse come too late, litigious angst and suits and settlements and palpable greed, and… if that’s not enough to make you grab your stomach and moan… finally an ending akin to the heart breaking scene in GODFATHER 3 when Michael’s daughter is shot by mistake in her virginal white dress as she reaches out, surprised, and the blood stains her chest and the BG music (thank you google) “Cavalleria Rusticanna, intermezzo” plays, and the sheer unreality of it all…

Well, having watched that much of the movie with me, very tolerantly, as he’s not into teenage drama of any sort, with which MARGARET is definitely rife, my HUSBAND finally points out, “Hey, this thing’s OPERA,” and leaves the room.

Thank you Sherlock.  And, yep.  He’s right.  Turns out Lonergan deliberately leant towards the grandiosity of opera, considered what is operatic in life in this telling of what he hoped would be a post 9/11 summation of American despair in the face of changed realities.

He filmed in New York City.  To drive home his point.  The movie came out six years after filming.  And apparently died on the vine due to bad blood between Lonergan and the powers that drive popularity and ratings.  I think that means the producers.  Don’t quote me.  I just watched the film. Twice.  On the advice of my favorite staff member at our neighborhood film store, the NARO, Norfolk, VA.  He also challenged me to figure out why the movie’s titled MARGARET.  Hint:  Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Let me refer anyone truly curious over real life drama involving this film’s history to a 2011 article, Why is Fox trying to bury Margaret? | Film | guardian.co.uk.

Another “why.”  Why am I reviewing MARGARET on a blog about women in film?  Well, one look at the cast and the answer starts.  The line-up was chock full of good to great actresses, like Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron,  Jeanie Berlin, even Renee Fleming!  And the parts for them, what can I say?  Go watch the movie.  I have NO COMPLAINT WHATSOEVER over the portrayals of women in this film.  The female roles are on steroids, though.  Grendel’s mother, the Valkyrie, no fainting violets.

One issue I have with the IMDb’s summary is important to mention.  Particularly since I’m about to recommend this film with whole heart.

The lead, IMDb suggests, realizes that her:

“…youthful ideals are on a collision course against the realities and compromises of the adult world.” 

The summary, thus intimating that the adult world of is reality and compromise, sets our lead up, and her ideals, as the better thing.  The thing of dreams.  The place where we only remain as long as we don’t grow up.

Nope.  Watch the movie carefully.  Lonergan is as caring in his portrayal of the adult hard choices, which are closer kin to measured, mature decision than thoughtless compromise, as he is sensitive to the fact that an audience will expect, however subconsciously, second chances for an ethically and emotionally immature young woman.

MARGARET is no simple movie.  MARGARET is almost bigger than life.

We all need the heroic, the tragic, the terrible and the hard, played out safely in a well crafted art form, so it doesn’t really hurt us; to help us remember who we are.

And MARGARET is ART.  It’s a wild ride.

When the movie ends, likely you’ll appreciate your own life more.

 

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