★★★ / ★★★★
To prepare for going horseback riding with her father in New Mexico, Lisa (Anna Paquin) went to shop for a cowboy hat in downtown Manhattan. To her disappointment, though, the hat proved very difficult to find. That is, until she turned around and saw a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) wearing one. Out of desperation, although the doors of the bus had closed and the driver had stepped on the gas, she ran alongside it and attempted to ask where he bought his cowboy hat. Distracted from the girl on his right, the bus driver ran a red light and a woman (Allison Janney) stepped onto the crosswalk. Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, “Margaret” could easily be misconstrued as a simple story of a girl facing a moral dilemma since its emotions, or at least a semblance of emotions, were the centerpiece. The picture was most powerful when the writer-director allowed his scenes to play out and gave us time to absorb droplets of emotions even if some of them were not particularly significant. For instance, when Lisa held the dying woman who got ran over by the bus, it was equally devastating and horrific. Their verbal exchange, as fleeting as it was, remained the most engaging despite the blood and severed body parts. By allowing the camera to focus very closely faces with minimal interruption, a dramatic gravity was established for us to immerse ourselves in the situation. Given this technique coupled with its extended running time, the little emotions that had gone uncut accumulated and, in a way, gave the material another dimension in terms of the real motivations of the characters as opposed to what we’d like to see the characters get motivated by. Furthermore, the aftermath of the tragedy focused on Lisa’s guilt. She knowingly gave the police false information in order to save the bus driver’s job. In exchange, however, her secret affected her in ways she would never have imagined. The screenplay did a wonderful job in communicating to us that although Lisa was not a bad person, her youth, naïveté, and proclivity for hyperbole did not excuse her from taking responsibility. Lisa was aware of this and that self-awareness was what made her a sympathetic character even though at times we disagreed with her opinions and actions. There was a subplot which involved Lisa’s mother (J. Smith-Cameron), a stage actress, meant to highlight the growing disconnect between mother and daughter. It also opened up a possible explanation as to why Lisa ended up making the decisions she did. Although not one-dimensional, their relationship could have been so much more enthralling if there had been less verbal sparring. I actually was more moved during scenes where they just looked at each other, very tired and defeated because it somehow occurred to them that exchanging words led to more strife. We’ve all been in a situation where we nor our opponent was willing to surrender an inch for the sake of pride. The writing understood how to handle its acerbic characters and how their personalities shaped their realities. “Margaret” felt long but, to its credit, it wasn’t without purpose. I admired that the third half deconstructed what we knew and felt toward the characters instead of relying on a typical falling action where winkles were simply ironed out. It gave the impression that although you’ve known someone for a really long time, sometimes you don’t really know them. The scary thing is, people think that having an idea of how they are is tantamount to knowing who they really are. For Lisa, the accident she witnessed was a rude awakening that there really is a difference between how a person perceives herself versus how she acts around other people.