A young woman goes from looking for a hat to cradling a dying woman in her arms, all in one afternoon.
Mortality is an inconvenience that reminds us of its presence as quickly as a bus runs a red light.
In Margaret, Anna Paquin, who could have walked out of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, is quicksilver cynicism and flinty defenses. Looking for the hat, one to wear on a horseback riding vacation which she’s to take with her piano prodigy brother and their screenwriter dad, will make her happy.
No one’s really happy. It takes too much time. It’s something you plan on being later.
Even if later never materializes. You know it’s a possibility, like so many things in the big city. This one being New York City, a metropolis of busy people planning to be happy.
But, first trying to prove the bus fatality was caused by a driver (Mark Ruffalo) not paying attention, that takes precedence. It doesn’t bring anyone closer together, if that’s a definition of happiness.
It would if this were standard Hollywood film. Director Kenneth Lonergan didn’t have that intent. This wasn’t a film in which a key to a smallbox solves a mystery. If there’s a key in Margaret, it’s to missed opportunities, misplaced phone calls, bad decisions, flat dinner conversations, divorced dad guilt, school teachers trying to seed healthy debates but unwilling to let students open the political Pandora’s box when discussing 9/11.
And, let’s not forget high school teachers incapable of hiding their attraction to their teen charges. Though not in any way a conventional beauty, Paquin’s Lisa is unmistakably the most untimid mind in the room. Even when she’s chirping with teen awkwardness, it’s still while trying to make a connection that no one else seems to want to make.
That, sometimes, people say and do dishonest things because it’s inconvenient to be honest. And to ask the dishonest to atone is just asking to be told you’re a child.
There are moments that will make you cry and there are moments that will piss you off and there are moments you beg the characters to really pay attention to what the other character is saying.
They won’t, because this isn’t a movie to make all the pieces of a puzzle fit conveniently together at the end of 90 minutes.