In the film industry, there’s failure, and then there’s straight-to-DVD failure. The list of gems that have, for myriad reasons, failed to make it to the big screen can be counted on one hand, with Mike Judge’s instant classic Idiocracy standing out among the most recent bunch. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have some good news: a new DVD release can be added to that minuscule list of gems.
Margaret, which had an extremely limited 2011 run in theaters, has had an utterly disastrous marketing campaign, coming far short of its first million in revenues (the ballpark budget was $14,000,000. It’s made back about $50,000). Despite its delays, multiple edits, and box office failure, the final cut of Margaret has emerged as a diamond in the rough. In fact, despite never seeing the light of day, it would not be stretch to deem Margaret a contemporary masterpiece.
Riding the critical acclaim of his 2001 directorial debut You Can Count on Me, writer/director/playwright Kenneth Lonergan wrote a 360 page script for Margaret, laying down the framework for what would become a Sisyphean post-production process. With a cast of well-known actors such as Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, and his regular collaborator Mark Ruffalo, Lonergan had the tides of good fortune on his side. Package the movie, prominently feature the big names on some billboards, and the movie would surely be solvent. I mean, seriously, we’re talking about Matt Damon here.
Enter post-production. There’s a fallout between Lonergan and his producers over the length of the final cut; Lonergan wants a three-hour edit, but Fox Searchlight opts for a two-and-a-half-hour cut that included the assistance of Martin Scorsese.
Four years later, Margaret had a feeble run in a tragically limited release. Still, critics liked what they saw. In fact, they liked it so much, an online petition spearheaded by critics plead Lonergan to release his intended cut. Last week, the Lonergan cut was released on Blu-ray and DVD. That’s five years after its intended release date.
Having heard of the movie for the first time after The New York Times Magazine’s recent profile on Lonergan, I can’t say it was worth the wait. But here I go: it was worth the wait. To briefly summarize the film, Margaret follows 15-year-old Lisa (Paquin) as she deals with the harsh realities of maturity. Love, death and everything in between are packed into this ambitious film, and Lonergan’s dialogue-driven script delivers on each front.
This ostensibly banal film is all about character development, and Paquin’s heartfelt performance is not just memorable—at a screening of Margaret, Lonergan (somewhat tendentiously) called it one of the best performances in film history. Truth be told, he may be right. Paquin balances her character’s innocence and guilt, owning the insecurities most coming-of-age movies can only feign.
At certain points, Margaret gets a little Tree of Life-ish, questioning the relevance of Lisa’s plight in the overwhelmingly populated New York setting. When confronted with the city’s indifference, what does it matter that this 15-year-old feels guilty for her unintended role in the death of a pedestrian? But don’t worry, the movie isn’t a pensive montage of dinosaurs and distant galaxies—it’s an authentic slice-of-life movie that simply grants more time for its characters to evolve and devolve.
Unfortunately, no one will ever see this movie. I had the privilege of seeing this at a screening. Admission was free. Okay, the free rider’s guilt was a little overwhelming, so I splurged and got the $28 Blu-ray on Amazon. I’m probably one of a hundred people who will actually spend money on this movie, which begs the question: shouldn’t a widely acclaimed “masterpiece” make back its relatively modest budget in ticket sales? This movie didn’t even fail honorably—it took the disgraceful straight-to-DVD road inhabited by two hundred Land before Time sequels.
I don’t expect you to buy the movie. In fact, I doubt you’ll even want to spend the $4 to watch this on Amazon on demand. So if you’re really interested, let me know, and I can lend you my copy. I am, from this point on, dedicating my efforts to the propagation of Margaret’s overlooked brilliance.
Still not interested in seeing Margaret? Remember, all you have to do is say the word and I will personally lend you my copy of the film via mail. What’s that? You’ll pass on the offer? Okay, go see the latest reboot of Spiderman. Suit yourself.