Good movies almost always let you know they’re good within the first couple of minutes. You Can Count on Me is that kind of good movie.
In a way both casual and heart-stopping, this independent film begins with a car accident that takes the lives of a married couple. They leave behind two children, a sister and brother. You may think you’ve seen this kind of sequence before, but writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, a playwright making his first film, hits all unexpected notes.
A few people have asked about the Margaret in Margaret, as well they might. My apologies! I think she was ungallantly left behind during a cut-and-paste from another version, although this may also have had something to do with it.
In any case, here she is:
“Margaret, whom we discover must be called Mar-gar-et to fit the meter of Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Spring and Fall,” is a “young child” who grieves over changes in nature she is noticing for the first, painful time.
“Ah, but as the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by. . .”
It’s the kernel of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s epic look at the effect that the fall from another kind of innocence -– uncompromising idealism –- has on Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) a smart, self-absorbed 17-year old in New York City, a few years post-9/11.
Lonergan lets Matthew Broderick give “Spring and Fall” its ideal reading, as an English teacher trying to pry responses from one of the poem’s tougher audiences, privileged kids, including Lisa, at a private school on the Upper West Side.
* * *
It occurred to me that the few readers lucky enough to see Margaret may not know Lonergan’s breakout success, You Can Count On Me (2000). It’s worth watching – again or for the first time.
Scooping up indie and critical awards across the country, the film gave Laura Linney her first Oscar nomination and ignited Mark Ruffalo’s movie career after years of theatre. Quite aside from its cast, perfect in Lonergan’s droll mix of dry wit, deprecation and tenderness, Count On Me is a time capsule of American innocence itself, before the convulsions of 9/11 and all that has followed.
Never, ever dismiss a grassroots movement (just ask Elizabeth Warren). Or the indignation of film critics, denied the chance to see what one of their clan has called “One of the year’s, even the decade’s, cinematic wonders.” The result has been a flurry of petitions, blog-wails and unkind aspersions directed at Fox Seachlight, from here at home and as far away as the U.K.
The fallout in Seattle has been that Kenneth Lonergan’s breathtaking Margaret got a press screening and a one-week run in one theatre (backed up by no ads anywhere.)
Here’s where critics come in: with 3 ½ stars from the Seattle Times’ Moira McDonald and a strong pick-up review-let at the Weekly – and, no doubt, a buzz in every cranny of Scarecrow Video – Margaret’s healthy weekend grosses have earned it a second week, through February 9th.
The tidy among us should probably know that Margaret is almost as gloriously unruly as Anna Paquin’s Lisa herself, and that we will be following her at almost eye level for 149 minutes, as Pacquin virtually irradiates the screen.