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

March 21, 2013 § Leave a comment



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 |

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.




February 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

YourSister'sSisterCoverYour Sister’s Sister

Even a Southerner might have trouble declining the relatives in that title at first.  Essentially, it’s a spot-on summary of what’s to come.   A double helix becoming one single strand, two into three kind of thing.  Three words, two sisters, and whoever’s pointing at them both.  A relationship triangle.  Perfect.  Okay, show me…

This movie portrays women brilliantly.  And it’s a well acted, hyper-realistic close-in telling of love between siblings, family bonds at their best.  One poignant moment, which they could have played a little louder since ultimately it’s the movie’s main point, comes when the third person, Jack (Mark Duplass), bares his soul and tells Iris (Emily Blunt) she’ll never know how important her sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is to her.  Until she’s gone, he means.

There could have been a second or two more of meaningful staring at that moment, maybe actually saying “until she’s…” I think.   Maybe I’ve watched too many 1940’s flicks lately.   Duplass is, in real life, a director known for “mumblecore” techniques, naturalistic dialogue.  Go figure.  It shows.  They must have talked through this timing, he and the director, Lynn Shelton.  And decided to mumble the theme rather than wear it like a white cowboy hat.

In fact, a lot is under dramatized in this show.  And there is some over-talk mumblecoring.  I’m new to the term.  I think I’ll use it at my teenagers.  “Put down that drink and quit mumblecoring right now, young man.”

If you don’t like dialogue, consider yourself warned over YOUR SISTER’S SISTER.  But it’s always realistic dialogue, real life-like, lovely.  Music doesn’t actually play when you make love, does it?  And you do sometimes say a little too much because your nerves or your habits or the voice in your head’s making you yammer on.

Anyway, Jack hands out the main point to Iris.  Why Jack?  The movie starts with a celebration of the life of his deceased brother one year on.  The brother happens to have been Iris’s fiancée until she broke it off.  But that’s not immediately clear.  I almost stopped watching during the first two minutes.  The scene almost bored me.  I thought, ach, the BIG CHILL again, but poorly.

Good news is “the scene” bores Jack, too.  He’s not into all the hero-worshipping his brother’s circle of friends are serving up.  He’s deep in curmudgeon denial angst.  Playing out that ache of being the one alive, that resentment gig.  So later, when he tells Iris to value her sister, the story satisfies a main plot point.  Jack the curmudgeon’s learned his lesson.  One of them.  And made the main point Iris’s instead.

Double helixed her.  Made her issue, loving the guy who slept with her sister, part of the whole, which is what the action of the story does to the three characters.  And it viscerally draws the viewer into caring about each of the three, too.   Sometimes with almost-too-much soft, dull reality.

I kept watching through my almost-boredom and, by the time Jack and sister number two, Hannah, were hanging out at a remote cabin kitchen table getting drunk past midnight, I honestly felt I was there with them and knew them very well as friends.  The soft dull stuff worked.  I wasn’t so bothered by the running dialogue.

So when Iris arrives next morning and surprises Jack and Hannah in bed, I ache for Iris.  I know, before anyone admits it, that she’s in love with Jack, and hope that Hannah catches on quickly, because it’s immediately clear she and Iris love each other.  I hope that Iris can forgive anything she discovers, because she and Hannah have such a strong relationship already.  And I desperately hope that Jack just hangs in there waiting for the fall-out without doing something totally dumb that we then have to live through until there’s a reunion of the happy couple.  Making it a movie driven by the guy, like so many.  I wanted the movie to be smarter than that.

In fact, I was opting for everybody hushing up about that sex thing last night, since Iris didn’t catch them and doesn’t know, because I’d begun to care about each character.  I watched them enjoy the cabin and one another and dodge the sex elephant in the room with some humorous scenes, all the while remembering that the rubber’s still in the trash can beside the bed and hoping against hope that the writer’s plan isn’t for Iris to find it.  And then I remember that the guy at my local boutique movie rental joint told me he thinks YOUR SISTER’S SISTER’s ending is the best one he’s seen in years.

And, as in all relationships, prophylactics play a part.   Oh, no.  NO NO NO don’t go there!

Without spoiling the end, I’ll show you towards it.

In YOUR SISTER’S SISTER, Emily Blunt has shed her bad relationship with eyeliner DEVIL WEARS PRADA bitch role for a truly likeable, British daughter of a man who owns a cabin in the Pacific Northwest, girl-next-door role.   After having seen her as Iris, I’d watch her sit still in a chair.  She’s very good.  She brings your heart out.  At least she did mine.

And Rosemarie DeWitt, who, by the way, shows up again in MARGARET, another movie my guy at the boutique rental suggested, Rosemarie wasn’t scheduled for the role of Hannah until close to shooting began but is a joy to watch on screen and in the role of the American half-sister.  She feels authentic.  In this film there’s ample time to feel the characters, watch souls play out in front of you on their faces, and her face is particularly good at that.  Not glamour-shot close ups.  Real authenticity.  Which speaks to the quality of the writing, I should note.  Or at least hazard a guess. Actors can’t act characters that aren’t well created.

And all the characters wear really comfortable clothes, which is VERY authentic in at least my view of life lived best.  Comfort encourages authenticity.  But I digress.

In the plot of the movie, Emily’s Iris and Rosemarie’s Hannah go from sisters thrilled at unexpected reunion, through the sharing and hiding of heart’s secrets, into utter and almost fatal betrayal.  And then, because their relationship is deeper than drama, deep like real life, they return to love.

It’s all plausible.  In fact, this movie captures the essence of sister love.  It surpasses drama.  It’s real.

Because it’s “real”, it may not be for everybody.   It does not spoon up a pat ending.  It does not have a car chase scene or take me to Bhutan on a lear jet.  It did, however, send me to a beautiful, remote Seattle island; involve me, like a welcome relative, in a well adjusted, loving family I’d claim as part of mine were it real; and leave me with respect for the writer/director, Lynn Shelton.

And also great faith that women ARE cracking the code of how to tell real woman stories on film.  And doing it.

coming soon…

January 28, 2013 § Leave a comment


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