Margaret, the long-awaited second film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me), has an offscreen history so fraught with drama it trumps anything in the movie. The tale of a ferociously precocious and high-strung Upper West Side Jewish girl, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), who witnesses a tragic bus accident, the film was shot at the end of 2005. But Lonergan, contractually obligated to deliver a two-hour movie, fell in love with his three-hour version (so did Martin Scorsese, who is said to have called it a ”masterpiece”), and he refused to cut it. Six years and several lawsuits later, Fox Searchlight is releasing a two-and-a-half-hour version of Lonergan’s film, which has been on the shelf so long that Paquin still looks like a teenager, Matt Damon (as her geometry teacher) is still skinny, and at one point someone imitates Bobcat Goldthwait.
So was Margaret worth the wait? Lonergan’s dialogue can sweep you up in a whoosh of personality and ideas, but it’s hard to see what, apart from ego, convinced him that this story was so epic. Lisa fixates on the accident because she was flirting with the driver (Mark Ruffalo) when he ran a red light and killed a pedestrian. First she lies about what happened, then she changes her story in a fit of guilt and rage. She makes the accident about her, which is why she must learn that it wasn’t. The trouble is, it’s a lesson we grasp all too early on. Margaret may be the longest film ever made about the moral education of a selfish, annoying princess. B-