Anna Paquin headlines Kenneth Lonergan's latest drama set in the Big Apple that centers on the torment one brings on themselves.
A fine ensemble also whets one appetite for Margaret, including Mark Ruffalo, Allison Janney, Jean Reno, and Matt Damon, as well as J. Smith Cameron (wife of Lonergan who has strong stage roots) and Jeannie Berlin who provides the opening voice-over.
The actress who has excelled on the small-screen on HBO's True Blood after its production (backed partially by the late Anthony Minghella) led to legal trouble with its distributor voraciously takes on a demanding role. The final product (apparently overseen by Martin Scorsese) just doesn't make for a provocative, original microcosm of contemporary life in a post 9/11 world. Thematically, there is similarity to Lonergan's more poignant debut with Ruffalo and an Oscar-nominated Laura Linney in You Can Count On Me.
Paquin's teen Lisa Cohen has some of the qualities of an independent-minded, idealistic stage performer mother, Joan (Smith-Cameron). But, Lisa's life drastically changes after a middle-aged stranger (Janney) perishes in a bus accident presumably through her role in a distracted bus driver (Ruffalo). In an attempt to come to terms with it all, the film (whose title gets its name from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem Spring & Fall) has Lisa working her way into the life of Emily, done with unexpected depth by Berlin, who happens to be the stranger's closest friend. After carefully establishing the relationship between mother and daughter.
A story that aims to have a deeper, personal sweeping quality seems at times to be overreaching with political debate, Lisa's maturity, and a complicated lawsuit with the arts (and the disaffected attitude about). What unfolds becomes more maladroit and disdainful for the viewer, unintentionally contentious that isn't honed or tightly controlled as reflected in Paquin's intense, if radical portrait.
Using glimpses with slow-motion outside of Lisa's classes (where there is much comment on literature), Lonergan struggles in the communication of a young woman's coming-of-age as many roles, even Smith-Cameron's, seems limited, and emotional involvement dwindles as it all builds to a night at The Met. Matt Damon and Matthew Broderick appears all too brief as Lisa's teachers, and Jean Reno can't do much as Joan's foreign boyfriend. However, Ruffalo and Janney convey a lot in their short screen time that one wished Margaret had more of their characters from the pivotal incident. It seems that an overpacked, tangential Margaret was hampered by its own off-screen drama from a compelling meditation on life and death.