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Released 24 February 2012
Director Kenneth Lonergan

Anna Paquin, J. Smith-Cameron, Mark Ruffalo, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno, Sarah Steele, John Gallagher Jr, Cyrus Hernstadt, Allison Janney, Kieran Culkin, Matt Damon
Writer(s) Kenneth Lonergan

Gary Gilbert, Sydney Pollack, Scott Rudin
Origin United States
Running Time 150 minutes
Genre Drama
Rating 18

When we were young!

The story of the making of this film is possibly more interesting than the film itself. Acclaimed playwright and scriptwriter Kenneth Lonergan made a stunning debut with You Can Count on Me in 2000, which was nominated for a couple of Oscars. His follow-up was hotly anticipated and Margaret was shot in New York in 2005.

However Lonergan wasn’t able to arrive at a cut he was happy with. The studio wanted the film to be no longer than 150 minutes but Lonergan wanted a cut that was closer to three hours. The movie got stuck on the shelf while the producers and film companies sued each other. Lonergan was cut off by the film studios and apparently had to borrow one million dollars off his close friend Matthew Broderick (who also has a smart part in the film) to continue to work on the film.

All of this took so long that two of the film’s producers, Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack sadly passed away in the meantime. Eventually Martin Scorcese, who produced You Can Count on Me, and his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker got involved and contributed to a 150 minute edit that Lonergan finally approved of.

The first thing that hits you is how young the cast look. Anna Paquin in particular is virtually unrecognisable from the glamorous blonde star of True Blood. Paquin plays Lisa, a seventeen-year-old student who attends a New York private school where she flirts with her maths teacher (a boyish-looking Matt Damon). She lives in an apartment with her younger brother and her mother Joan (J. Smith-Cameron – Lonergan’s wife). Joan is a somewhat neurotic stage actress who begins a tentative relationship with a Columbian man Ramon (Jean Reno).

When out shopping Lisa distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) causing an accident that leads to the death of a woman (Allison Janney). Lisa initially lies about the circumstances of the accident to help the driver out but then she feels guilty about this. She makes contact with the woman’s friend Emily (Jeannie Berlin) and tells her she lied and the two of them set about suing the bus company.

This is a slow, frustrating film that drowns in its own sense of self-importance. For once we can thank the film company that prevented Lonergan from releasing a three hour cut, because even this version overstays its welcome. There is loads of fat that could have been cut, especially the tiresome post 9-11 political debates in Lisa’s class that go on forever. The plot just ambles along and frankly it’s more annoying than anything else.

Paquin puts in a committed performance, but thanks to Lonergan’s unconvincing dialogue, she never really comes across as a realistic character. In truth Smith-Cameron is very good as the mother, who’s frankly out of her depth trying to deal with a difficult teenager. Mark Ruffalo is on decent form as the bus driver too but the appearances by Reno, Damon and Broderick are little more than starry cameos. Lonergan himself turns up briefly as Paquin’s dad, divorced from her mother and communicating by phone from California.

For most of the actors concerned this will go down as a curious oddity in their film careers. For Lonergan though, it could be a fatal blow unless he can show he can be less precious about his work in the future.

- Jim O’Connor