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Worlds of Wanwood Leafmeal Lie

Margaret (2011)

Myles Aronowitz/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Remember Kenneth Lonergan? It’s been 11 years since his art-house hit and double Oscar nominee “You Can Count on Me.” He started filming its follow-up, “Margaret,” in 2005, and it’s been mired in a legal battle until now. Unsurprisingly, the finished product is discernibly dated — from the post-9/11 debates about the Middle East in the dialogue to the late Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella in producing credits. But is it worth the wait? Absolutely.

Deriving its title from the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child,” “Margaret” centers on 17-year-old private-school student Lisa (Anna Paquin) and her guilty conscience for having inadvertently causing a fatal accident. While many indiewood products of this ilk are by now cliché and predictable, Mr. Lonergan has fashioned something that rings so true that it resonates long after the end credits.

In Lisa, he has created a multidimensional character with a psychological profile worthy of a case study. She channels her guilty conscience inwardly through self-destructive sexuality and outwardly through argumentatively lashing out at anyone and everyone. While worldly as you’d expect a privileged kid reared in the Upper West Side to be, Lisa also comes off as preciously naïve in her obsessive efforts to self-flagellate and to bring about justice. While one wouldn’t characterize the film as popping with emotional fireworks, Lisa’s coming of age is so true-to-life that it’s impossible for moviegoers to not identify with her loss of innocence.

“Margaret” not only faithfully captures a young woman’s growing pains, it also serves as an emblem for our collective post-9/11 grieving process. In fact, everything about the film is genuine. Its illustration of New York is so spot-on that sitting through it feels like people-watching around the city. These characters are reminiscent of those all around us whom we may or may not have had direct interactions with — a stark contrast to the archetypical and caricatural New Yorkers that are ubiquitous in movies and television. There are numerous lovely little details — such as the M.T.A. bus operator played by Mark Ruffalo living in Bay Ridge — that make the film an incomparably authentic experience.


Opens on Sept. 30 in Manhattan and on Dec. 2 in the United Kingdom.

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan; director of photography, Ryszard Lenczewski; edited by Anne McCabe and Michael Fay; music by Nico Muhly; production design by Dan Leigh; costumes by Melissa Toth; produced by Sydney Pollack, Gary Gilbert and Scott Rudin; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 29 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Anna Paquin (Lisa Cohen), J. Smith-Cameron (Joan), Jean Reno (Ramon), Jeannie Berlin (Emily), Allison Janney (Monica Patterson), Matthew Broderick (John), Kieran Culkin (Paul), Mark Ruffalo (Maretti) and Matt Damon (Mr. Aaron).


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