Kenneth Lonergan's masterful character study screens in an extended cut. Info
Editor’s note: This screening was postponed from its initial Feb. 12 date, due to weather concerns.
Before writer-director Kenneth Lonergan was receiving 2017 Oscar nods for his seaside chronicle of familial grief, Manchester By The Sea, he pored over the involving character Margaret for nearly a decade. While the film did not see a wide release until 2012 due to a turbulent post-production that failed to yield a cut that satisfied Lonergan, it was actually shot in Manhattan seven years prior. Whether in its ultimate theatrical presentation at 150 minutes or its extended, epic version at 186 that the Wisconsin Film Festival's Tuesday Night Movie Club series will present here, Margaret holds up as a time capsule of the mid-aughts' social and existential anxieties and an influence to the self-reproach and atonement that drives the Dardenne Brothers' The Unknown Girl (2016).
Working in the spirit of independent cinema pioneer John Cassavetes, Lonergan binds a fearless filmmaking ardor with a true screenwriter's ear for layered, confrontational dialogue worthy of a great American novel, or perhaps just as fittingly, the poem by Gerard Hopkins that informs the title. Lonergan's sentiments are largely channeled into the experiences of conflicted, quick-witted 17-year-old high school student Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), whose attempts to chase down a bus one afternoon end up distracting the driver (Mark Ruffalo) into a fatal collision with a pedestrian. Initially, Lonergan positions the film as an urban coming-of-age drama, but it develops into a complex moral play about the bureaucratic legal process and the fraught relationships born from tragedy, particularly Lisa's clinging to the victim's best friend and motherly figure, Emily (Jeannie Berlin). —Grant Phipps