Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen.
I raved about 'Manchester by the Sea' earlier this month, for which I sincerely hope that both director/writer Kenneth Lonergan and actor Casey Affleck receive BAFTAs and Oscars – we'll see.
It made me curious about Kenneth Lonergan's work. Since 2000, he has only directed three films: 'You Can Count on Me', 'Margaret' and 'Manchester by the Sea'. Most of his career has been as a playwright and screenwriter. But his ability as a highly individual director is, to my mind, astonishing. I picked up a copy of 'Margaret' (2011), his second film. I watched it last night and it was the 186 min extended-cut version. I was completely blown away by the power of the film. It is an exemplar in in-depth storytelling. A superb script with astonishing performances, masterful editing and beautiful cinematography.
What makes Lonergan's work so special is the space he allows around the main drive of the story. He creates seemingly throwaway moments surrounding the daily lives of the characters and their environment – a passing snatched conversation, an elderly person negotiating some difficult steps, helicopters crisscrossing the Manhattan skyline, or a slow pan across an apartment building, glimpsing the different worlds going on inside. All of this gives the film a mesmerising atmosphere and room to think.
Like 'Manchester By the Sea', 'Margaret' has a catastrophic event at its core that has a profound effect on the main protagonist, Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin). We witness her spiral into an obsessive state that engulfs her life. She is a bright, quick-witted, articulate middle-class 18-year-old student living with her divorced actress mother and younger brother in New York while coping with the long distance between her and her LA-based commercial director father.
The New York setting could easily be the world of Woody Allen or Wallace Shawn, but it very much has the unique fingerprint of Lonergan. It is a densely beautifully scripted film with some intense collisions of characters that are exhilarating and exhausting to witness. The performances of Anna Paquin and J. Smith-Cameron, who plays Joan Cohen, Lisa's mother, are outstanding.
Like Terrence Mallick and earlier Stanley Kubrick, Lonergan uses existing music, rather than commissioning a complete score. This can be a little patchy, but at times it creates some very poignant moments.
I am now moving on to watch. 'You Can Count on Me'. Lonergan is a wonderful find and I look forward to much more from him. He is currently writing a TV mini-series of E. M. Forster's 'Howards End' for the BBC.
Watch the trailer here.