Margaret (2011, Kenneth Lonergan)

A traumatic year in the life of Lisa (not Margaret – long story) and her mother in New York. Straightforward character drama with some unique filmic touches (lots of half-heard side conversations, two 360-degree pans within a few minutes of each other in opposite directions). I would possibly have watched this based on the back-story (Lonergan made the beloved You Can Count On Me then spent six years in editing and legal limbo trying to get this one released), then probably not watched it based on the trailer (looked like a bland L.A. Crash-style character-intersection drama), but I finally watched it based on the few vocal critics who insist it’s the best, most criminally neglected film of 2011. They were right!

Mom and Jean Reno at the opera:

Mom and Lisa on the way to a different opera:

Great acting, and a truly impressive, screenplay. Character behaviors seem untidy and human, self-centered and confused. Lisa is a shrill teen, alterately excited and upset by everything, trying to deal with personal responsibility, growing up, family, too much all at once, leading to a beautiful ending. I watched the three-hour version. Not sure which sixth of the film was chopped for its brief theatrical and blu-ray releases – it’s hard to imagine, since there’s no repetition. For instance, whenever the story calls for one person to tell another some things we’ve already seen or heard, the camera pulls back, we see the beginning of the conversation but hear something else, just long enough to get the point then it cuts to the next scene. So, some of the story would have to be removed – maybe her classmate love-triangle, or a Broderick class session.

Lisa’s after-school job as a theater lighting technician:

The central event in Lisa’s life this year is her witnessing/causing a bus crash that kills Allison Janney. Lisa (Anna Paquin) lies to the cops, saying bus driver Mark Ruffalo had the right of way, but she keeps obsessing over the accident, wanting to talk about it with teachers (Matts Damon & Broderick) and friends and others – so she seeks out the victim’s best friend Jeannie Berlin (Charles Grodin’s new bride in The Heartbreak Kid) and Ruffalo, who is understandably defensive when a high schooler comes to his house wanting to talk about the truth behind the accident, which had already been ruled accidental.

Lisa, Jeannie and Jeannie’s lawyer friend:

Meanwhile Lisa’s stage actress mom (J. Smith-Cameron) is dating wealthy fan Jean Reno, but can’t quite deal with their cultural/social differences, and Lisa is planning a vacation with her estranged father (played by the director). Lisa ditches longtime best friend John Gallagher Jr. (Pieces of April) to have sex with bad Kieran Culkin, then she manages to seduce Matt Damon and ponders ruining his life by making a scene about it (shades of 25th Hour). And the bus-crash intrigue continues, with involvement by lawyers and detectives and the victim’s greedy next-of-kin. After mom breaks up with Jean Reno, he dies unexpectedly, and mother and daughter go to the opera together with the tickets he’d bought.

Lisa’s film-director dad:

The cast is great, but most importantly, nobody acts like a movie character acting out a plot with foregone conclusion. Lisa is inconsistent, eventually loses the threads of her attention-grabbing schemes, because she’s surrounded by people with their own ideas and feelings, not stock characters in a hack script designed to help or hinder her – which is how, as a self-centered teenager, she sees the world.