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Margaret - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
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It's only fitting that its taken me a while to see Margaret. After all, its taken seven years to make it to the screen. No wonder Matt Damon looks so young in it.

The main drawcard is writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, who although having formed most of his body of work in theatre, is responsible for the wondrous You Can Count On Me. That film had one of the great screenplays of the noughties and contained breakthrough performances by Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo.

Clearly Lonergan has a real talent for writing great parts for women. This film centres around an extraordinary one inhabited by Anna Paquin, who won Best Actress at this year's London Critics Circle Film Awards, beating Meryl Streep, Glenn Close et
al. Hers is a fascinating character - smart, verbose, emotional, combative with her mother, manipulative with men - whether they be her fellow students or her teachers. It's refreshing to see a male director write such complex female roles. This complexity extends from Paquin's Lisa, to the other main women in the film - her mother, a successful Broadway actress, and Emily, a grieving but guarded character who becomes an ally of sorts. The men in the film are mainly reduced to romantic/sexual suitors.

At two and a half hours, Lonergan dares to take his time. He had final cut and there's the distinct feel that this is one person's uncompromised vision. This is at once the film's strength and its weakness. Isolated scenes are incredibly powerful, they brim with ferocity and pack an emotional wallop. Yet there's also a meandering nature to the narrative. Instead of a traditional emotional arc, the film goes off onto tangents and explores facets of Lisa's behaviour that don't seem in keeping with the overall themes.

Lonergan certainly isn't interested in neat solutions. The characters, their motivations, and their interactions are often messy. This gives the film an authentic rawness, especially in the scenes of major conflict. The dialogue in particular feels incredibly natural, albeit spoken by very articulate people who don't mind dropping the c-bomb from time to time.

This is a real love it or hate it experience. You will either get wrapped into this world and be truly moved by the emotional intensity or you will be infuriated by the seeming lack of structure and extreme length. For some reason Australian's have latched onto the film in relatively big numbers, with Margaret having made more money at the Oz box office than the rest of the world combined.

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Why? A unique and intense cinema experience
Where: At selected cinemas around the country
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