Every film needs buzz prior to its release; that ineffable quality of public awareness that will hopefully generate sufficient interest that ultimately will translate to increased revenue. Even in the case of independent films where the filmmakers concern is more artistic the fiduciary there remains the undeniable need for sufficient recognition and funding to make the next project possible. There are many way that this public awareness can be created. Casting an A List star in and Indy movie or making a controversial choice in filling the roles is certain to get the spotlight on the film. In the litigious times we live in one method of increasing publicity for the movie is a lawsuit. Although not by design the movie under consideration, ‘Margret’, took such a path to the press rooms and cinema news sites. The story is the epitome of the independent film world following the life of a young woman whose life was inexorably changed by a random cascade of events. Ironically, a lawsuit is critical to how the story unfolds but that is not what caught the public’s eye. The filmmaker, Kenneth Lonergan, had a definite artistic vision for how his story had to be presented. Although it superficially might appear to be a rather simple coming of age story Lonergan had something deeper and more elaborate in mind. His preferred cut of the film came in close to three hours in length. The distributor, Fox Searchlight Pictures, required a considerably shorter running time. They demanded the film’s length be contained in 150 minutes. This may not seem like a huge difference, just a half hour or so, but it was a matter of corporate financial concerns’ incompatibility with artistic integrity. The filmmaker had a story in his mind’s eye that he needed to present but three hour long movies tend not to do well even with an art house release. Besides, long movies limit the number of showings a theater can present in a day which directly limits the box office take. In fairness it does seem that Fix Searchlight made an honest effort to mitigate their demand. Although lawsuits did delay the release by over three years they did bring in award winning film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and master class director, Martin Scorsese, no stranger to running long. They were to assist Lonergan in bringing his film down to the required length without sacrificing it artistic impact.
As a long time fan of Indy movies I can appreciate and even admire how strongly Lonergan stuck to his guns. A film may be a marketable property but first and foremost it is a work of art, loved and nurtured by its creator. What might have helped here is Scorsese spent time in the Roger Corman. I’ve heard several of the filmmaking greats that worked under the tutorage of this ‘B-Flick’ great that one thing they learned from him were how to deal with the necessary aspects of the business side of filmmaking. I certainly would love to see the original director’s cut of this film but it must be noted that the version released on DVD and Blu-was is incredibly powerful with an emotional heart that hits with the force of a punch to the solar plexus. Some technical missteps in the character formation are evident but in this case may be attributed to cutting scenes that would have elaborated on the audience’ appreciation and understanding of them. It has long been my contention that you cannot tell the story of a damaged human being with a highly polished and perfected movie. A story like this has to use the foibles that are intrinsically part of the characters to forge an emotional connection with the audience. ‘Margret’ achieves this with great élan. In this light the extra screen time may have elucidated the characters more but it also could easily dilute the emotional impact of the story. There is a touch of irony present here in that the title is derived from the poem, Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘Spring and fall: To a Young Child’ which is hailed for the compact fashion elicits such well crafted feelings in the reader.
Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) is a seventeen year old student living in Manhattan. One morning seemed to be like any that came before with Lisa walking on the Upper East Side. Lisa is a very attractive young woman accustomed to catching the attention of strangers but this morning she inadvertently distracts a bus driver, Jason ‘Maretti’ Berstone (Mark Ruffalo). Usually this action is innocent enough offering just s moment of distraction but this morning Maretti’s loss of concentration lead to losing control of the vehicle and fatally injuring a pedestrian (Allison Janney). Lisa rushes over but the injured woman dies in her arms. She had just been walking along side the bus flirtatiously coveting his hat just as the accident occurred. Lisa’s life has already been disrupted by the divorce of her parents. She lives with her mother, Joan ((J. Smith-Cameron), an actress wannabe while her father, Karl (Kenneth Lonergan) literally phones in his parenting from Los Angles.
Lisa is beset by the flood of emotions crushing in on her. She seeks out a means to cope and winds up crossing paths with the confrontational best friend of the victim, Emily (Jeannie Berlin). The grieving young woman turns to her teachers for some modicum of guidance but winds up in as uneasy interaction with her Math teacher, Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon( as once again flirtation intercedes. She pulls away from her mother and gets into heated debates with her class mates all of which might seem over done if not for the a script that was sharpened to a razor edge and performances that have been hailed as well worthy of Academy Awards. Due to the litigation induced delays this performance by Ms Paquin preceded her work in the HBO flagship series, ‘True Blood’ it also remind devotees of the cinematic arts why this amazing actress brought home an Oscar at eleven, an age when most children would be happy to get the lead in the school play. This role provided her with the substances necessary to properly showcase her exceptional command of her craft. Of course a considerable factor in the depth of this performance is due to the screenplay and directorial styling of Mr. Lonergan. His film offers a sincerity that is exceedingly rare in movies today. it may seem that he is unable to maintain the intensity throughout the entire film but I adamantly reject such an interpretation. This film represents an honesty in portraying the emotional turmoil this damaged teen feels. Not onl;y is she unable to find anyone to help her cope with this tsunami \of feelings the lack of remorse by the driver and being pulled into a legal action over the death all but washes away her previously held self image. I have not seen such an honest point of view of this type since the 2004 film ‘Purgatory House; by Cindy Baer. Like that movie this one candidly and sincerely places the audience within the mind of a confused teenage girl. a nicely packaged conclusion would have been an affront the emotion state of Lisa that was expertly constructed in every scene of this story.
Spring and Fall: To a Young Child