MARGARET – Extended Cut A
USA (178 mi) 2011 d: Kenneth Lonergan
First of all, this is not a Director’s Cut, or a definitive cut, but simply an extended cut, including a different way of telling the same story using more footage and a different musical soundtrack, adding more operatic elements, also repeated occasions where the director uses overlapping dialogue that occurs somewhere away from the center of the action, giving the viewer a sense of misdirection, showing how easily one can get distracted or misunderstand, but it also interferes with some of the dialogue. Also, in the latest Blu-Ray version of the film, the theatrical version is Blu-Ray, but the Extended Cut is not, a troubling aspect of the packaging of the film, where the Fox Searchlight Studio has had adverse interests from the beginning, refusing to get behind a project they didn’t believe was workable from the outset. One might think after the film received such critical theatrical acclaim, the studio might attempt a different course, but it appears they remain wholeheartedly *against* the film. As a result, the Extended Cut is less polished than the original, assembled from rough work cuts, where both the sound and image leave something to be desired, where conversation, such as the initial lunch with Lisa and Emily with her lawyer friend Dave (Michael Ealy), is often drowned out by street sounds, such as nearby jackhammers or traffic noise. Nearly a half hour longer, the film is no better for the extra sequences, and in fact suffers from some of the added elements which actually detract from the dramatic intensity of the film, while the core drama remains intact. The extended scenes do serve actress J. Smith-Cameron well as Joan, Lisa’s (Anna Paquin) mother, who is more fully developed here, but this is at heart Lisa’s story, a novelistic examination of her transformation as she carries the weight upon her shoulders, expressing the evolving aspects of personal trauma, where one often does or says things they may not mean, where the internalized nightmare has a way of playing out in inappropriate ways. It’s almost as if people are not in control of themselves, as there’s another internalized voice speaking and making decisions for them as if they’re not even there, as the real person may be temporarily lost or simply disappear altogether.
As it turns out, You Can Count On Me (2000) took only 20 days to shoot, while for Margaret (2011), actually shot in 2005, they only had 50 days to shoot when the director felt he needed more like 100. The choice to change the musical score meant deleting the original soundtrack written by Nico Muhly, which is actually much more effective, as the classical and operatic moods in the Extended Cuts don’t offer the variance of the original, where the film is constantly repeating musical styles and themes the audience is familiar with and has already heard, which is quite different than an original soundtrack that has never been heard before, which often adds a certain freshness, particularly to a story as convoluted as this one. Despite the extension of Joan’s character, the only real positive in the director’s cut are more shots of New York, which are all sensational, where the city becomes a prominently featured character in the film, often beautifully represented by its energetic street activity, a glorious skyline, the luminous look at night, and such uniquely original architecture. Lisa does an excellent job standing in for the post 9/11 grief and trauma victims from New York, as she’s incredibly articulate, extremely smart, and even though she’s bewildered somewhat by her own self-absorbed teenage life, a drama queen always needing to be the center of attention, even to the detriment of others, she continues to evolve throughout the film in strange and mysterious ways. The big, dramatic scenes remain the same, though minor alterations in length may play differently with viewers, where the most major change in context is the use of sound, where Lisa is already so operatic, the audience doesn’t need to be reminded by adding emphasis from the soundtrack. There are a few additional scenes that stand out, such as a group therapy session in her high school theater group where they’re putting on a play, suggesting Lisa may have an interest in acting after all, something that might surprise her mother (an actress) who tells Ramon (Jean Reno) her daughter has a “contemptuous” view of her profession. There are plenty of group cries and hugs, where under the surface emotional volatility rises to the surface in tears and heartfelt apologies, where in the original the audience has more than enough clues into Lisa’s interior world.
Lisa’s bedroom scene with Paul (Kieran Culkin) lingers on just a bit longer, where Lisa’s actually upset about what just happened, as neither one takes any personal responsibility, where she embarrassingly confesses her anger before awkwardly asking him to go. In a similar manner, there’s another extended scene between Joan and Ramon as they sip cocktails on a beautiful terrace overlooking the city’s skyline, where after Joan complains how high critical praise actually changes her audience’s reactions, as afterwards people come into the theater with inflated expectations, she expresses her trepidation about how different she and Ramon are, wondering how they can succeed together if there is so much they don’t understand about each other. Both are awkward moments in a relationship where it’s hard to express your feelings to someone who feels like a total stranger. While there is another awkward moment when Lisa confronts her teacher Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon) about having a recent abortion, which in the original feels like it may or may not be true, as perhaps her intent was simply to embarrass the guy in public, here there are extended background scenes at the clinic, but every scene she has with this teacher is still staggeringly inappropriate. There's an unusual outside shot that pans across the apartment windows of Lisa’s neighbors, where random conversations are taking place inside each window, where a conversation with a friend in Lisa’s room is actually interrupted by those incidental voices. Similarly, Lisa has a scene in a coffee shop with her high school friend Darren (John Gallagher Jr.), where instead of hearing them, we hear a conversation of two elderly women sitting in the booth next to them. Perhaps the impression Lonergan was attempting to convey was how invisible Lisa felt from the trauma, as if no one was listening or paying attention to her, despite her desperate outward pleas. Nonetheless, this is the same, slightly altered film with some of the most gorgeously crafted scenes as anything in recent American cinema, featuring terrific performances, using headstrong characters, often deeply immature, where the director typically cuts or fades to black at a particularly impactful moment, where rather than let entire scenes play out, the film is replete with these small bursts of energy that consistently express more than enough to hold the viewer in awe, where this is surprisingly original, combustible theater at its best.