Many people seem to have so many differing opinions on what is the greatest film of the 21st century – and the BBC recently bestowed that honour upon Mulholland Drive, a high point (perhaps the highest point) in the career of David Lynch. One film that has been tossed around as being one of the greatest of the 21st century is Margaret – and I for one never understood why. I hadn’t seen the film, and had only heard of it. I was incredibly taken aback by the extreme acclaim it had – and quite honestly, not because it sounded bad, but rather because it didn’t seem like a film that would meet the criteria to top lists. Now that I’ve seen the film, I absolutely understand why. Margaret is a masterpiece of our times, and most certainly one of the more extraordinary films of the past century so far.
In Margaret (named after a character in the poem “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child” by Gerard Manley Hopkins), the central character is Lisa Cohen (played by the ever brilliant Anna Paquin), a spoiled brat of a Manhattan schoolgirl who loves her privileged life and being the bane of existence of her long-suffering actress mother, Joan (J. Smith-Cameron). When Lisa and a bus driver interact, none of them are aware of the fact that actions have consequences, and thus a woman is hit and killed by the bus driver, Gerald (Mark Ruffalo) – living with the shock of witnessing what happened, Lisa decides to take action – and realizes that she has the power to change the life of so many people with her actions. Throughout the sprawling suburban epic, Lisa interacts with various characters, who in turn interact with other characters, changing their lives in some way.
Let me be perfectly honest – in the first thirty minutes of Margaret, I cried twice. By the time the credits started rolling, I was weeping. If there was ever a film that could be considered pure emotion, Margaret fits that bill perfectly. I have never been so sufficiently moved by a film like I have been with Margaret – so beautifully poignant, but utterly heartbreaking – it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It is impossible to convey the emotional roller-coaster that Margaret puts one through, but I can assure you it is a long, bumpy and terrifying one, and there are no seat-belts – it throws you around, knocks you down and picks you right back up again. It emotionally destroys you, and I believe that was the intention of director Kenneth Lonergan – this is most certainly not an easy film to watch, but it is a rewarding experience, because it is filled with such subtle humanity and brilliant insight into the human condition.
The performances in Margaret range on some of the best of all time. Anna Paquin is absolutely brilliant as Lisa, the spoiled rich brat at the center of the film. I always thought it was lovely that a great actress like Anna Paquin won an Academy Award, and even if she hasn’t done film work that lives up to that standard, she is still a wonderfully talented actress. It is impossible to ignore Paquin’s powerful performance in Margaret – she navigates the emotional torture that this film displays, and she gives one of the very best performances of the past decade without a shadow of a doubt. I think Paquin is a wonderful actress that deserves far more than she has gotten in the past, and hopefully she gets better roles, because Margaret proves just how far her talent can go.
J. Smith-Cameron is an absolute revelation here, playing the role of the suffering mother with such emotional rawness and extreme dignity. Her sub-plot made me openly weep – and her performance is an absolutely different level. I think she is one of the better discoveries in recent years, and while I know she is somewhat of a well-regarded stage actress, it was a great opportunity for her to have a role in a film. I am shocked that Smith-Cameron hasn’t been given opportunities as good as this in subsequent films, but her performance here on its own is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. The rest of the cast is incredible – Allison Janney’s small performance broke my heart. Jeannie Berlin is the emotional core of this film. Mark Ruffalo, who I am admittedly not a fan of, is great as the conflicted bus driver. Matt Damon is incredible as the helpful Math teacher, and Matthew Broderick has an amazing moment as the high school English teacher – his character serves very little purpose, yet is so vital to this film. My favorite part of Margaret is how I easily could have seen this film from the perspective of any of these characters. I wanted to dive into the lives and minds of each of these people – and if that isn’t superb character development, I am not entirely sure what is.
Margaret is an amazing film. It really needs to be seen to be believed. It is not a film that can be discussed at length – it is very basic in story, and in execution it doesn’t have much to mention. However, it is an experience more than anything – it is a film that you need to see to understand why it is so brilliant. I highly urge everyone to seek this film out – it might change your life. It certainly had a tremendous impact on me, and it certainly will on you. I can’t urge you enough to watch this film. Please seek it out, it will definitely be worth your time, I promise. It is just something you will never forget.