Examining the ‘Margaret’ Extended Cut

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A few weeks ago, I was delighted to see Kenneth Longergan’s ‘Margaret’ get a well deserved second moment in the sun. The hype and attention for the Blu-Ray release of ‘Margaret’ has obviously died down now, but a film as interesting and worthwhile as this one deserves an extra moment in the sun, no? Combined with the dearth of DVD/Blu-Ray titles that hit this past week (and will continue to do so without much appeal for the next week or two), I thought it was the right time to dive back into Kenneth Lonergan’s flick and talk a bit about the Extended Cut of the movie that everyone was buzzing about. I’ve now seen this cut and the Theatrical Cut twice at this point, so I think I’m in a good position to get into which one is the preferred cut (though I still wish I’d seen the even longer cut that Clayton was privy to a few years back, but alas) and which version is right for whom. I’ll get into the changes/additions, but mainly I want to focus on what the end result of the new cut of the film is like. What does an additional 36 minutes get you? It certainly has a lot going for it, but is it the “one true” edition? Well, let’s read on and find out, shall we? Here goes nothing…

First off, it’s perhaps a cop-out, but I have to say that there’s no superior cut of the film. Each one has a different appeal and a different issue that bugs me. Overall, they’re both equally good (I’d still give the same 3 and a half star review to the extended cut that I gave to the theatrical one here at The Awards Circuit last year) and sterling pieces of cinema that are worth plenty of examination…and that’s just what I’m about to do. I’ll refrain from getting too deep into it (though in the comments I can talk more if you’d like me to), but I’ll give you a nice little preview of to expect from the extended cut of ‘Margaret’.

As for what’s different/new in this cut, there’s both a lot and not that much, if that makes any sense. Many scenes are just longer and put at a more languid pace, but there are a few new scenes that are rather interesting, though the truly noteworthy thing about this version of the movie is the sound decisions from Kenneth Lonergan (in addition to curiously dumping much of the original score written for the flick in favor of classical music). Even during the bus accident scene, you hear the sounds of the city in a such a loud way that you notice it as much, if not more, than the dialogue between Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) and Monica (Allison Janney). Another great example of the unique way that Lonergan chose to integrate the sounds of New York City with the story of Lisa is when she’s at a diner in a deleted scene telling her friend that she’s not interested in him romantically. You actually barely hear anything that she’s saying, you’re simply watching the two, but you’re hearing other patrons’ conversations. I found it to be a brilliant decision and perfectly highlights how the city itself is a true character in the film and that this story of a teenager and her moral struggles actually pales in comparison to the rest of the city and the stories of the New Yorkers around her. Also doing a lot for the film are additional classroom scenes that get into the political climate of the time. Actually, my favorite new scene is set during a meeting of the cast and crew of a play being done at the school Lisa attends. It may not have added too much to the plot overall, but it’s just a tremendously well done and enjoyable scene that could have functioned as its own short film. The other main additional scene that is noteworthy comes towards the end and clears up a plot point that I won’t spoil here, in case you haven’t seen it yet. It’s a good addition, but I won’t lie…I preferred the ambiguity of the original version. Basically, there are lots of small tweaks here that subtly add to the film (such as more shots of the skyline and planes flying overheard, feeding on the Post 9/11 fears we all had), but they do that at the cost of pacing. The movie was already long at 2 and a half hours, but this version is over 3 hours and really can test the patience of someone who’s not dedicated to the Team Margaret cause.

I obviously don’t think that you can call one version of the film better than the other, but I do think that certain people are better suited to each cut. As for ‘Margaret’ virgins, those first coming to the flick now on Blu-Ray are probably more likely to enjoy the theatrical cut more, as the extended cut does have a pace that can test the patience of someone who doesn’t know quite what they’re getting into. The exception to that are newbies who have followed the film’s trials and travails for the past half decade and are eager to see as much of Lonergan’s original vision as possible. A similar set of guidelines goes for those who’ve seen the movie already. If you loved ‘Margaret’ as much as I did last year, getting to see a new version of it obviously holds some strong appeal. If you weren’t a fan and want to try it again, I don’t know that the extended cut will do anything for you. The problems in the original are still here, just in a different sort of way. Essentially, unless you’re dying to see more of ‘Margaret’, stick with the shorter cut. I’d actually encourage you to watch both cuts and decide for yourself…but that’s a lot of time and I’m realistic about the logistics of that endeavor.

Whatever cut you wind up choosing to tackle, I urge you to check out ‘Margaret’ now that it’s out in the world and available to everyone. I championed it last year, and I’m still championing it today. Kenneth Lonergan made something truly unique and acclaim worthy, so give it a shot and see what you think, be it for the first time or the fifth time. I hope you like it as much as I (and many others) did! Years from now, I bet we’ll still be talking about this movie, and I’m thrilled that we can now talk about it as a film, and not as a cautionary tale.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!