Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011). Holy moly, what a mess. The first thing to note is that “2011” is a bit of a lie, rather like saying the Beach Boys’ Smile came out in 2011. Lonergan is a playwright whose first film, You Can Count on Me, was well-received on its release in 2000. He worked on other films, and in 2005, shot his second feature, Margaret. He gathered a tremendous cast of A-listers, almost-A-listers, and “hey, it’s that guys”: Anna Paquin, Mark Ruffalo, Jeannie Berlin, Jean Reno, John Gallagher Jr., Allison Janney, Kieran Culkin, Matt Damon, Rosemarie DeWitt, Matthew Broderick, even Lonergan himself, along with his wife, stage actress J. Smith-Cameron (who is excellent). It took six years to get even limited distribution, accompanied by lawsuits and the reported editing participation of Martin Scorsese. Six years is a long time; as Mick LaSalle wrote, “many famous faces turn up … all looking better than the last time you saw them, but that's because you're looking at 2005.”
Lonergan had big ambitions: a movie about NYC a few years after 9/11, when everyone was still feeling the aftermath as something recent. He seems to have wanted to stuff every possible aspect of the Big Apple into his movie, which runs 2 1/2 hours (and which he wanted to be 3 hours … one of the reasons the film took so long to finish is that Lonergan apparently could never decide how he wanted his footage to come together). Andrew O’Hehir described the film as “like going to a friend’s house for dinner to discover that they’ve apparently had a breakdown, and bought all sorts of delicious ingredients with no recipe in mind.” Margaret isn’t exactly incoherent, it’s just a lot of too much.
And then there’s Anna Paquin (it’s a sign of how long it took the film to be released that Paquin, who by 2011 had four seasons of the sex-filled True Blood behind her, believably plays a high-school teenager in Margaret). Paquin, and the character Lonergan has given her, Lisa, is overwrought in some remarkable ways. Rarely has there been a more accurate portrait of teen angst (not only is Lisa full of the self-absorbed dramatics of the typical teenager, she actually has something awful happen in her life that gives her a reason to emote). O’Hehir said Lisa was “one of the most irritating people in the history of cinema”, and he’s right, but while he would disagree, I’d say Lisa/Paquin is the primary reason to see this scrambled egg of a movie. It’s not a pretty sight … Lisa does not progressively see the narrowness of her self-centered worldview, but in fact develops it far beyond the typical devil-may-care youth into someone whose obsessions eventually seem worse than any crime which instigated them. In short, Lisa is a realistic construct, one who makes the audience increasingly uncomfortable.
It’s understandable why this movie has been buried. It’s way too long, it’s a complete mess, it features an unlikable lead character, and did I mention it’s a too-long mess? Yet I was rather taken with it, or at least with the character of Lisa, and thus I feel a bit protective towards it. #240 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. 7/10.
Two shorts by Jean Vigo (À propos de Nice, 1930, and Taris, 1931). Vigo made only four films before his death of tuberculosis at age 29, these two shorts, a longer short (Zero de Conduite), and one feature (L'Atalante). À propos de Nice is a polemic disguised as a travelogue. Vigo filmed a variety of people in Nice across all classes, then showed what they were doing in such a way that, as Vigo said, we become “sympathetic to a revolutionary solution”. To this end, he uses documentary footage, animation, editing, pretty much every tool available to a filmmaker in 1930 (not sound, though … it’s a silent film). It’s nowhere near as didactic as something like Potemkin, and in fact it’s rather charming if you don’t think about it. Its reputation may be a bit inflated because Vigo is highly regarded now, but his influence on the French New Wave is already clear. Taris is a brief documentary about a top French swimmer, only slightly less abstract than what Riefenstahl came up with in Olympia. Vigo is playful here, with lots of reverse motion action. The film is fun but not exactly monumental. À propos de Nice: 8/10. Taris: 6/10.
The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010). I watched this again, because I’m using it in my classes this semester. I didn’t see much to change my original opinion. But it was odd watching it so soon after the first season of The Newsroom, because the very first scene in The Social Network is completely Sorkinesque. 8/10.
Brooklyn Boheme (Nelson George and Diane Paragas, 2011). 7/10.
Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012). 6/10.