Jeremy, are you grieving over Margaret unreleased? Yes. Daily.
Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret was shot in the fall of 2005. It was the playwright/filmmaker’s long-awaited follow-up to his triumph of 2000, You Can Count on Me, and its very production seemed kind of miraculous at the time. At 184 pages, the July 15, 2003 draft of the screenplay was dense with ideas and digressions; primarily concerned with the folly of a young girl who insinuates herself into the aftermath of a fatal bus accident, the narrative unexpectedly, but effortlessly blossomed into a New York City-bound microcosm of the country post-9/11. It was a wild, sprawling piece of material, but it never got away from Lonergan; he was too immersed in the inner lives of his characters to betray them, and too masterful in his storytelling to lose his focus. There was an American classic to be made from this screenplay.
So where is it?
I’ve tried over the years to reach out to Lonergan, but my old theater connections have proved useless. I once approached Scott Rudin – who produced the film with Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella – to tell him how much I loved the screenplay, hoping that would lead to further conversation; he was pleasant, but not in a terribly conversant mood as far as Margaret was concerned. Every now and then, I attend a press junket with one of the film’s stars (I’ve lobbed questions at Anna Paquin, Matt Damon and Mark Ruffalo over the last two years), but they only speak highly of Lonergan and plead ignorance as to the state of the picture.
Praise be to Collider‘s Frosty, then, for getting the most substantive take on Margaret‘s progress from young Olivia Thirlby, who plays Paquin’s best friend in the film. Here’s what she had to say:
“I think what I’ve heard is just that they’re trying to cut it down, because the script as we shot it was about 300 pages. And, yeah, it was epic and it’s a film that is merely – I shouldn’t say merely – but it’s simply about a girl who is in the wake of a tragic accident that she was not a part of but she just witnessed, and it’s about her kind of acting out in bizarre ways, and it’s about her mother and her classmates and her teachers, and, you know, it’s a kind of a slow quiet film. I think they’re just trying to get it down to an acceptable length and, you know, Kenny Lonergan is brilliant but I think that sometimes he’s still more of a playwright than a filmmaker.”
I haven’t seen a cut of Margaret, but on the strength of You Can Count on Me, I would take issue with Ms. Manny Farber’s assessment of Lonergan’s filmmaking aptitude. Just sayin’.
Thirlby adds that she continually hears that they’re still in the cutting room. Have there been re-shoots? I know that the film test screened at least once (I got a couple of emails from people who loved what they saw), but holding it back from Sundance and Toronto two years in a row is troubling. Maybe Cannes 2008?
I’d downplay Thirlby’s “300 pages” claim, but, with rewrites, I could honestly see the shooting script ballooning to that size. But why rewrite what was so perfect in the first place? I mean, I know how these things go; sometimes you get the work up on its feet and a scene or a line of dialogue doesn’t play. But I’ve read a lot of screenplays and plays in my time. There wasn’t much to fix here.
As always, I’ll offer my useless pair of eyes to Lonergan and/or Rudin, though I’m sure they’ve sought more learned and experienced outside counsel. Still, I’m desperate to see how Margaret grew up. Even if it’s not what I dreamed it could be, I’ll still love the potential of it unconditionally.