Margaret (2011 film)

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Margaret Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKenneth Lonergan
Written byKenneth Lonergan
Produced by
CinematographyRyszard Lenczewski
Edited by
  • Anne McCabe
  • Michael Fay
Music byNico Muhly
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures
Release date
  • September 30, 2011 (2011-09-30)
Running time
150 minutes[1]
186 minutes (Extended cut)
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million[2]
Box office$623,292[3]

Margaret (/ˌmɑːrɡəˈrɛt/)[4] is a 2011 American epic psychological drama film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. The film stars Anna Paquin, Jean Reno, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, J. Smith-Cameron, Jeannie Berlin, Kieran Culkin, Olivia Thirlby, and Rosemarie DeWitt. Margaret was filmed in 2005 and originally scheduled for release that year by Fox Searchlight Pictures, but was repeatedly delayed while Lonergan struggled to create a final cut he was satisfied with, resulting in multiple lawsuits. The litigation ended in 2014.[5]

While the studio insisted the film's running time could not exceed 150 minutes, Lonergan's preferred version was closer to three hours. Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker contributed to editing a 165-minute version that Lonergan approved; the cut was never released because producer Gary Gilbert refused to approve it.[6] Eventually, Fox Searchlight Pictures released the 150-minute film in a limited release in the United States on September 30, 2011, to moderately positive reviews from critics. Some considered it overlong, but it was praised for its acting and later appeared in several publications' lists of the year's best films. Critical praise has grown over time, and Margaret is now regarded as one of the best films of its decade and of the new century, and was ranked 31st in a BBC critics poll of the 21st century's 100 greatest films.[7]

Lonergan completed a three-hour extended version incorporating extra footage with a revised score and sound mix, which was released on DVD in July 2012.[8]

The film's title is drawn from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Spring and Fall: to a young child", which is discussed in Lisa's English class.


A 17-year-old Manhattan student, Lisa Cohen, shopping on the Upper West Side, interacts with bus driver Gerald Maretti as she runs alongside his moving bus; he allows himself to become distracted, leading to a fatal accident by missing a red light, in which a pedestrian, Monica Patterson, is hit by the bus and subsequently dies in Lisa's arms. Initially, Lisa reports to the police that the driver had a green traffic signal, but later, out of remorse, changes her story. She confronts Maretti, who first pretends to have forgotten the details of the accident, and then reveals to her in anger that he does remember them, but believes he did nothing wrong, causing Lisa to pursue his firing from the company with passion. In collaboration with Monica's best friend, Emily, and cousin, Abigail, Lisa ultimately becomes involved in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority, seeking the dismissal of the driver (who is revealed to have caused two previous accidents), as well as monetary damages, which would be awarded to Abigail as the victim's next of kin. Meanwhile, Lisa's life takes various turns, including a flirtation with her math teacher, Aaron Caije, her decision to lose her virginity to a classmate, Paul Hirsch, and various vehement debates with classmates about politics and terrorism.

Lisa and her actress mother have a rocky relationship, with sporadic fighting and Lisa expressing ambivalence toward her mother's boyfriend Ramon. An after-show dinner, attended by Lisa, her mother, Emily and Ramon, ends with Ramon making a remark perceived as anti-Semitic toward Emily. Ramon dies of a heart attack not long after. Lisa has sex with Caije, then later confronts Caije, telling him, in the presence of another teacher, that she has had an abortion. She expresses doubt about who the father was and mentions that there are several possibilities.

The lawsuit reaches a conclusion, with an award of $350,000, but the MTA refuses to fire Maretti, out of concern that it would inflame a labor dispute. Abigail claims the settlement offer, revealing the monetary settlement to have been her primary motivation; this causes Lisa to become very upset and disillusioned with the outcome of the case.

Lisa and her mother plan to attend an opera that Ramon and she were to see before his death. On the way, Lisa sees Maretti driving the same bus that had killed the pedestrian and there is a brief moment where the two see each other. During the opera performance, Lisa's accumulated emotion from the sequence of events bursts out and she and her mother affectionately reconnect, crying together and holding each other as the opera goes on.



Filmed in 2005, the film's lengthy post-production sparked multiple lawsuits, which were scheduled to be tried in 2009.[9][10] In July 2010, Fox Searchlight stated that Lonergan finally completed work on the film, and that it would be released in 2011.[11]

Themes and Analysis[edit]

Margaret has an unusual digressive structure, with the plot only one part of a wider mosaic that explores a teenage girl's emerging consciousness and realization of the world's indifference to her anger and grief. While protagonist Lisa tries to make sense of the tragedy by variably acting out sexually, clashing with her mother, arguing about politics with classmates, and getting involved in issues that concern her only peripherally, she comes up against a city unmoved by her plight. This feeling of insignificance is enhanced by film's sound design (in the extended cut), which emphasizes other people's conversations intruding on Lisa's experiences, rendering her emotional states insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Lonergan contrasts these difficulties with scenes of Lisa's mother acting on stage as well as opera performances which provide dramatically satisfying experiences far removed from Lisa's messy real world experience. In essence, Lisa's teenage narcissism and "emotional, physical, and maturational limitations" prevent her from seeing that the adults around her are not supporting characters in her life, but part of a wider humanity that grieves and suffers.[12] The film also incorporates numerous shots of the Manhattan skyline as well as ground level footage of people walking in real time and in slow motion, emphasizing the varied topography of the city and accentuating the gulf between Lisa's personal troubles and those of the people around her, as they all live in the mournful shadow of 9/11.


Critical response[edit]

Margaret received mostly positive reviews from critics. As of June 2020, the film holds a 74% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 100 reviews, with an average rating of 7.15 out of 10. The critical consensus states, "A surfeit of ideas contributes to Margaret's excessive run time, but Anna Paquin does an admirable job of guiding viewers through emotional hell."[13] The film also holds a score of 61 out of 100 on Metacritic (based on 27 critics), indicating "generally favorable reviews."[14]

For her role as Lisa Cohen, Paquin shared the 2011 Best Actress Award from the London Film Critics Circle and received a nomination for Best Actress from the Chicago Film Critics Association. She placed first in critics’ polls from the LA Weekly, the Village Voice, and the International Cinephile Society.[15][16] On December 23, 2011, Fox Searchlight sent screeners of the film to AMPAS members.[citation needed]

Margaret earned five-star reviews from Time Out, The Daily Telegraph, and The Guardian.[17] It also ranked 31st in a 2016 BBC poll of the 21st century's greatest films.[7] It has made many best of decade lists for the 2010s. In 2019, critic Richard Brody named it one of the 27 best movies of the decade.[18]

Some critics have cited the film as an example of a great New York City movie and a portrait of a traumatized Manhattan in the wake of 9/11.[19][20]

Box office[edit]

Despite being well received critically, Margaret was commercially unsuccessful. The film was given a limited release in North America in 14 theaters and earned $46,495. In the UK, it débuted on only one screen in one cinema – Odeon Panton Street in London. Such was the interest in the film that it took £4,595 in its opening weekend, giving it by some margin the highest screen average of any film on release at the time.[17] In France, it débuted on only one screen in one cinema – Publicis Champs Elysées in Paris.[21] The worldwide total for the film was $623,292, well below its $14 million production budget.[3]

Home media[edit]

An extended cut of the film was released on DVD in July 2012 in both the UK and the US.[8][22] The US release also includes a Blu-ray of the film featuring the theatrical cut in high definition. The Canadian release uses identical packaging and claims to include both cuts but, in actuality, includes only the theatrical cut twice.[citation needed]


Original music was composed by Nico Muhly with additional cues by Elliott Carter. The film also features two scenes at the Metropolitan Opera, featuring "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma, and "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" (Barcarolle) from Jacques Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann.


  1. ^ "MARGARET (15)". British Board of Film Classification. October 31, 2011. Retrieved January 10, 2012.
  2. ^ Margaret at Box Office Mojo
  3. ^ a b "Margaret". The Numbers. Retrieved February 17, 2017.
  4. ^ Lyne, Charlie (December 8, 2011). "If you go down to the Odeon Panton Street today ..." Archived from the original on January 11, 2012. Retrieved December 21, 2012.
  5. ^ Gardner, Eriq (April 2, 2014). "Six-Year Legal Battle Over Kenneth Lonergan's 'Margaret' Finally Ends". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  6. ^ Nevins, Jake (January 16, 2018). "Oscar winner Kenneth Lonergan on director's cuts, Scorsese and studio battles".
  7. ^ a b "The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films". BBC. August 19, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ a b Landy, Tom (May 17, 2012). "'Margaret' Amazon Exclusive Blu-ray Announced". High Def Digest.
  9. ^ Horn, John (April 26, 2009). "Kenneth Lonergan's 'Margaret': post-production in a courtroom". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 29, 2009. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
  10. ^ Labrecque, Jeff (July 9, 2012). "Kenneth Lonergan on the making of 'Margaret'". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved November 20, 2013.
  11. ^ Thompson, Anne (July 22, 2010). "Black Swan Opens 67th Venice Biennale; American Films Expected; Where's Margaret?". Thompson on Hollywood. indieWIRE. Archived from the original on September 25, 2010. Retrieved October 21, 2010.
  12. ^ Murthi, Vikram (March 24, 2016). "New Classic: Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret"". Indiewire.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ "Margaret (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
  14. ^ "Margaret". Metacritic. Retrieved June 15, 2020.
  15. ^ Pond, Steve (December 29, 2011). "Critics' Awards Round-Up: 'The Artist' Still on Top … for Now". The Wrap. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  16. ^ "ICS Sues Hollywood for A Separation". February 22, 2012. Archived from the original on December 16, 2013. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  17. ^ a b Gant, Charles (December 8, 2011). "Arthur Christmas makes its presents felt at the box office". The Guardian. Retrieved December 8, 2011.
  18. ^ Brody, Richard (November 26, 2019). "The 27 Best Movies Of The Decade". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on November 26, 2019.
  19. ^ Yoonsoo Kim, Kristen (May 1, 2018). "'Margaret' Is the Coming-of-Age Masterpiece You Probably Missed". Vice. Retrieved November 12, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. ^ O'Hehir, Andrew (September 29, 2011). ""Margaret": The great NYC post-9/11 movie that crashed and burned". Salon. Retrieved November 12, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. ^ Sotinel, Thomas (August 27, 2012). "Margaret, de Kenneth Lonergan, le grand film qu'il ne faut pas aller voir". Le Monde (in French). Retrieved February 26, 2022.
  22. ^ Brooke, Michael (April 25, 2014). "DVD Review". Sight & Sound. This video release of a significantly longer cut that bears a much stronger resemblance to Lonergan’s 2005 shooting script.

External links[edit]