There's an English classroom discussion (with Matthew Broderick as the teacher) in MARGARET on the line from King Lear, "As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods,/They kill us for their sport." The debate is between the scholarly consensus--that the gods don't give a shit about humans, our lives and our problems--and a student who contends that maybe the point is that we cannot understand the gods anymore than a fly can understand us--i.e., we are just too stupid to see the big picture. My takeaway from MARGARET is a combination of the two. The gods don't give a shit about humans. More importantly, humans don't really give a shit about our fellow humans. And it's because we are all as stupid as flies. I'm at a bit of a loss to think of another movie that is this engrossing despite having no character I really liked (and only a few that I didn't actively dislike.)
The story revolves around Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin,) a privileged private-school girl in New York. One day, while shopping for a cowboy hat as if it's the most important thing in her life (and honestly, it probably is) she witnesses a bus accident that results in a death. In fact, more than witnessing it she probably caused it by distracting the driver (Mark Ruffalo.) Worse yet, she lies on the police report--saying the light was green when in fact it was red--to avoid responsibility (and maybe to save the bus driver, too.) According to much of the press about this movie, this event becomes the catalyst for her personal transformation. I disagree--I don't think she transforms all that much. Without giving too much away, I will say there's a catharsis at the end, but not much of a transformation. She simply goes from having her whole life revolve around her personal petty dramas to her whole life revolving around her personal "important" dramas. Perhaps there's a transformation and maturation that is implied after the final scene, but for much of the movie her biggest transformation is from a typical teenage drama queen to a strung out drama addict (is there such thing as a drama crack whore?) As an example, there is a scene (spoiler alert) near the end where she blurts out that she had an abortion. I don't believe she actually had one, she just said that for the attention and drama (end spoiler.)
There are plenty of other moments of high personal drama, which I won't get into for fear of more spoilers. It's only very near the end does the victim's best friend Emily (Jeannie Berlin) call her on her bullshit, screaming that, "this is not an opera! And we are not all supporting characters to the drama of your amazing life!" I think that pretty well sums up my frustration with the character.
But I must be very careful to not confuse my dislike of her character with a dislike of the movie. I actually liked the movie quite a lot. The different threads--her teachers, her mother (an actress--someone who literally makes her living by faking dramatic emotions), her mother's boyfriend, her friends, her debates at school (especially over 9/11 and the Israel/Palestine issues), the loss of her virginity, etc.--all tie together to create a pretty rich and multi-faceted portrait of not only Lisa's character but all the characters.
In fact, the more I think about it, what I like about it the most is that it is multi-faceted enough that I might be completely wrong about the whole movie. In fact, as I think about it more (particularly the ending) maybe the point is that all drama is personal, and the way to bring meaning to your life is to embrace the personal drama in it.
I don't really believe that, but I do believe that it would be possible to interpret MARGARET that way.
Running Time: 150 minutes
My Total Minutes: 267,091