UPDATE, FRI NOV 22: In a last-minute switch-up (well, last-day switch-up, as the film screens tonight), the Northwest Film Center will be screening the extended edition of Margaret, the preferred cut of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan. Theatrical screenings of Margaret are rare to begin with, but screenings of the extended edition are even more so—which means now you really have no excuse to bail on whatever boring plans you have and go see Margaret instead. It screens tonight at 7 pm at the Northewst Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.
Original story continues below.
"When Lonergan began shooting the film in 2005, after taking two years to write the screenplay, Margaret had a lot going for it," wrote Joel Lovell in The New York Times Magazine in 2012, discussing the "thwarted masterpiece" of Kenneth Lonergan, the writer/director of You Can Count On Me and Manchester by the Sea. "When it was finally released six years later, in late 2011—after a brutal and bitter editing process; a failed attempt by no less a cinematic eminence than Martin Scorsese to save the project; and the filing of three lawsuits—several serious film people called it a masterpiece. And almost no one saw it."
Margaret is, in fact, a masterpiece—not only thanks to its remarkable lead performance from Anna Paquin, and not only thanks to Lonergan's keen eye and ear, but because it offers the jarring, overwhelming sense of experiencing someone else's life. The tiresome phrase "slice of life" is often used to describe pedestrian, routine stories about pedestrian, routine things, but Margaret really does feel as if it's been lifted, whole and honest, from someone else's existence—as if you're experiencing it alongside them, as if you can look around at any given moment to see and hear the effects of each thought and emotion. Sometimes Lonergan's characters are focused on a shared event—in this case, a horrific incident on a busy Manhattan street—but just as often, they hold that experience within, then go on with their commute, their dinner, their own disparate and messy hours and days. Rather than automatons that shuffle around, building a plot as quickly and efficiently as possible, Margaret's characters are complicated, confused people; wandering alongside them, we see how the experiences and traumas that we carry with us can color, however subtly or dramatically, our world and the worlds of those around us.
Once could argue (okay, I will argue) that the best way to watch Margaret is via the three-hour "extended edition" that was released on DVD in 2012 and is currently available to stream via Amazon—a version that, thanks to bypassing the aforementioned "brutal and bitter editing process," flows and works and affects in ways the clunky, chopped-up theatrical version simply can't. As of the Mercury's deadline, however, it's looking like the theatrical version will be the one the Northwest Film Center plays this weekend—and while that's disappointing, the rare chance to see Margaret on a big screen, even in its lesser form, will likely be worth the effort. (If, that is, you've either already seen the better version or are willing to track it down afterward: In addition to streaming it via Amazon, you can also find a physical copy of the extended cut at Movie Madness and online.) Yes, Margaret is long, but it's also unforgettable, and not a single second of it is wasted.