Anna Paquin in Margaret (2011)


(director/writer: Kenneth Lonergan; cinematographer: Ryszard Lenczewski; editors: Anne McCabe/Michael Fay; music: Nico Muhly; cast: Anna Paquin (Lisa Cohen), J. Smith-Cameron (Joan Cohen), Jean Reno (Ramon), Jeannie Berlin (Emily), Allison Janney (Monica Patterson), Matthew Broderick (John), Kieran Culkin (Paul), Mark Ruffalo (Maretti), Matt Damon (Mr. Aaron), Kenneth Lonergan (Lisa’s screenwriter father), Cyrus Hernstadt (Curtis), John Gallagher Jr. (Darren); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Scott Rudin/Sydney Pollock/Gary Gilbert; Fox Searchlight; 2011)
“The coming-of-age pic has a sense of deeply felt gravity.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title refers to a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem about grieving. The poem pops up during an English class attended by the pic’s high school student heroine, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin). Hopkins’ emotionally charged Victorian poem,“Spring and Fall,” concerning a girl named Margaret, is read aloud. The bright student from NYC, Lisa, makes a connection with the poem. The sarcastic teen comes from a wealthy family, who are divorced. Her screenwriter father (Kenneth Lonergan) lives in Hollywood.

Playwright director Kenneth Lonergan’ (“You Can Count on Me”) modern-day drama is released after six years of legal woes involving production problems. Lisa dwells with her sister (Cyrus Hernstadt) and actress mom Joan (J. Smith-Cameron, the director’s real wife), in a Manhattan luxury Upper West Side apartment.

The film’s main incident has a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo), dressed in cowboy garb, distracted by Lisa running alongside the bus and flashing hand signals when he closes the door in her face. He then jumps a red light and accidentally runs over a middle-aged woman pedestrian (Allison Janney). The dying woman when comforted by Lisa, treats her as if she were her daughter.

After Lisa lies at the deposition, saying the pedestrian crossed against the light, she has a change of heart when she comes into contact with the victim’s aggressive best friend (Jeannie Berlin, Elaine May’s daughter) and changes her statement in an effort to assuage her guilt-feelings about indirectly causing the tragedy and then lying about it. Her change of testimony leads to a civil law suit for over $100,000 that goes against the city and the driver–charging him with vehicular negligence.

Matt Damon is Lisa’s math teacher, whom she goes to for advice and to confess her erratic behavior.

The coming-of-age pic has a sense of deeply felt gravity, and questions such things as idealism, morality and doing the right thing. In the post-9/11 world, in NYC, it asks what it means to get involved in tragedies.