DC Film Beat: Metro Area Cinema for 24 April – 1 May (Special Kenneth Lonergan and MARGARET Edition)

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Point blank: if you live in the D.C. area, and you consider yourself a movie buff, then run (do not walk) to the West End Cinema this weekend and catch the D.C. premiere of Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret.

Some background information…

Following the critical and commercial (well, “commercial” for an independent film) success of his You Can Count on Me, filmmaker/playwright Kenneth Lonergan began planning an epic character study about a teenage girl trying to comprehend her steadily encroaching adulthood, and I say “epic” because this modest setup belied Lonergan’s bold creative ambition: he wanted to make a statement about nothing less than post-9/11 America.  His protagonist’s shock at facing realities she had previous left unconsidered (the film’s title, Margaret, comes from Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” which also deals with such matters) would mirror the country’s collective realization that the world doesn’t play in bold absolutes but rather in murky, unsettling ambiguities.

Lonergan spent half a decade honing his script and then assembled a powerhouse cast – a pre-“True Blood” Anna Paquin as heroine Lisa Cohen, Kieran Culkin, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, Matt Damon, Rosemarie DeWitt, and his You Can Count on Me cohorts Mark Ruffalo and Matthew Broderick – to bring it to life.  Finally, in late 2006/early 2007 (the dates change depending on the source), he and the crew wrapped principal photography, with the understanding that Lonergan would deliver a cut for Fox Searchlight in the Fall 2007 release window.  The writer/director entered the assembly room and started editing his director’s cut…

And he edited.  And edited.  And edited.

Fall 2007 came and went, and just to shake things up, Lonergan edited some more.  I should note that it’s extremely unclear on the specifics behind this process; those in the pro-Lonergan camp say he finished a three-hour director’s cut much sooner than his detractors are willing to admit and that the studio balked at such a hefty runtime (Lonergan’s contract gave him final credit only if his director’s cut ran no more than 150 minutes), while those anti-Lonergan-ites claim that the director hemmed and hawed and couldn’t find a cut that satisfied him.

The unfinished (?) film sparked a series of lawsuits, with Fox Searchlight first suing Margaret financier Gary Gilbert and then Gilbert suing Lonergan, who had to turn to Broderick for a loan to continue the editing process.  Fox never booted Lonergan off his own picture (the studio would have looked a mite ogreish had they fired a person they first bequeathed final cut privileges), but they sent in such esteemed figures as producer Scott Rudin (The Social Network, No Country for Old Men), editor Thelma Schoonmaker (The Aviator, The Departed), and the late Sydney Pollack (Out of Africa, Three Days of the Condor) to “help” Lonergan shape his movie.  It’s hard to say what happened – with the various legal affairs came confidentiality agreements, meaning those who know, won’t tell, and those who tell, don’t know.

All that we know is that the years passed, as they are wont to do, with still no movie in sight.

Cut (pun very much intended) to late 2011.  With Lonergan’s blessing, Martin Scorsese (a Margaret supporter from the time he first fell in love with an early cut) and Schoonmaker assembled a 150-minute version for Fox Searchlight; the studio had planned a quickie theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles, ostensibly to try and pick up some Academy Awards buzz.  In this writer’s wholly unsubstantiated opinion: Fox just wanted to be done with the whole experience.  You don’t open a movie in a handful of theaters with little promotional support if you honestly believe in its awards potential.  Margaret came and went, and that should have been that.

But it wasn’t.  Those who saw it reacted to it.  I’m not saying that the critical community unreservedly embraced Margaret, as they did for Terry Gilliam’s similarly tortured Brazil back in 1985; Margaret is currently rocking a 59% favorability rating on Metacritic.com, so roughly half the reviews are positive, and half are negative.  Here’s the thing, though: the positive half?  Loves the movie.  Over-the-moon-kinda praise.  And the negative half?  F—cking loathes it, and probably wishes Lonergan dead for wasting their time.  Something in Margaret sparks people, for good or ill, and that intense critical reaction has propelled the film past its NY/LA mercy-killing release.

Margaret now pops up in specialty theaters all over the country, and starting Friday, it begins a limited run at the West End Cinema.  I haven’t seen it yet, and I don’t know how I’m going to feel about it.

I do know, however, that it will make me feel something, and that anticipation is thrilling.

Maybe some of you agree with me.  If so, click HERE for more Margaret-at-the-West-End details (also, THIS LINK provides a much-more thorough summation of Margaret‘s various entanglements).

Other noteworthy titles this week…

At the AFI Silver: The Hayao Miyazaki Retrospective is showing My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the Jack Nicholson Retrospective has Easy Rider, Carnal Knowledge, Five Easy Pieces, and The King of Marvin Gardens on deck.

At the E Street Landmark: the sushi-centric documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

At the Bethesda Row Landmark: Lawrence Kasdan’s Longtime Companion (his first feature since 2003’s cinematic abortion Dreamcatcher), and the psychological thriller Sound of My Voice.

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