Critics Join #TeamMargaret

Slate's Culture Blog
Dec. 1 2011 4:02 PM

Critics Demand to See Margaret

Matt Damon and Anna Paquin in Margaret.
Matt Damon and Anna Paquin in Margaret.

Publicity still courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

In a rare but not unprecedented move, movie critics from Washington D.C. to Seattle have signed a petition demanding more opportunities to see Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. The 2011 film, which stars Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, and Matthew Broderick, was shown in a very limited release earlier this fall and closed soon after, leaving many critics with little or no opportunities to see it before compiling their end-of-the-year lists.

Margaret, writer-director Lonergan’s second film after the highly acclaimed and Oscar-nominated 2000 drama You Can Count On Me, had been lost in post-production limbo for more than four years. At least two lawsuits resulted, as Lonergan, financier Gary Gilbert, and distributor Fox Searchlight fought over the final cut of the film. It took none other than Martin Scorsese to help negotiate a version of the film that everyone was thought to be happy with—and even then the Scorsese cut was ultimately whittled down futher prior to the film’s highly abbreviated release (leading IndieWire’s Kevin Jagernauth to suggest that critics’ should instead demand a director’s cut). With such a troubled and contentious production history, it’s not surprising that Fox Searchlight has instead focused its awards season efforts on titles like The Tree of Life, Martha Marcy May Marlene, and The Descendants.

Some of the earliest and most prominent advocates for Margaret include The New Yorker’s Richard Brody, HitFix’s Guy Lodge, and The A.V. Club’s Scott Tobias. Brody called the film “an extraordinary experience,” “wildly ambitious,” and “a rhapsodically panoramic view of life in New York.” Even Brody, however, acknowledged the film’s flaws, which resulted in mixed and negative reviews from many other critics. Not everyone is on #TeamMargaret.

Margaret isn’t the first film this year to inspire activism from critics. Last month movie blogger Jeffrey Wells became perhaps the first columnist to resort to fundraising to back further “for your consideration” screenings of a film. Wells gathered over $2000 to screen Tyrannosaur in hopes of getting Olivia Colman some Oscar gold for Best Actress.

The Margaret hullabaloo has also been compared to the battle over Brazil in 1985. While Universal grappled with director Terry Gilliam over his cut of the movie, and failed to release it, Gilliam took out a must-see full-page ad in trade magazine Variety. After the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named it the best film of the year, Universal finally set a release date for the film—and kept Gilliam’s intended ending.

You can watch the trailer for Margaret below. (Remember, the actors shot the film in 2005, so they look like babies!)

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. Email him at Forrest.Wickman@slate.com.