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The Films of Kenneth Lonergan

You Can Count on Me

Margaret (October 5/11)

An interminable mishmash of a motion picture, Margaret follows New York City-based teenager Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) as she inadvertently causes the death of a random bystander (Allison Janney's Monica) in a gruesome traffic accident - with the traumatic event subsequently forcing Lisa to question everything she thought she knew about her life and her beliefs. Filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan has infused the early part of Margaret with the feel of a low-key character study, as the emphasis is consistently placed on the protagonist's day-to-day exploits and her continuing encounters with the various folks in her life (including her mother, an up-and-coming stage actress, and several of her teachers, including Matt Damon's Mr. Aaron and Matthew Broderick's John). The watchable yet sedate vibe persists right up until the aforementioned accident rolls around, with the electrifying, downright wrenching nature of this sequence - which boasts a seriously impressive turn from Janney - injecting the proceedings with a much-needed (though short-lived) burst of energy. From there, Margaret slowly-but-surely morphs into an increasingly (and incongruously) sprawling epic that's bursting with needless subplots - with Lonergan's head-scratching decision to focus on the comings and goings of several periphery characters testing the viewer's patience on a frequently ongoing basis. (Examples of this include Lisa's mother's relationship with a polite businessman and Lisa's progressively acrimonious dealings with Monica's grieving best friend.) The meandering atmosphere only grows more and more problematic as the bloated narrative unfolds, with the 150-minute running time (!) ensuring that Margaret fizzles out long before it reaches its admittedly affecting climax. It is, as such, not surprising to note that what should have been a tight, straight-forward drama about guilt and redemption is instead an ambitious yet hopelessly cluttered mess of epic proportions, which is a shame, certainly, since the film does boast at its center an absolutely enthralling performance from star Paquin.

out of

Manchester by the Sea (November 22/16)

Written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, Manchester by the Sea follows Casey Affleck's Lee Chandler as he's forced to alter his life considerably after his recently-deceased brother (Kyle Chandler's Joe) names him guardian of his teenaged nephew (Lucas Hedges' Patrick). Filmmaker Lonergan delivers an engrossing and often mesmerizing drama that grips the viewer right from the outset, as the movie, in its early stages, operates as a fairly fascinating character study of Affleck's deeply damaged protagonist - with the effectiveness of this stretch heightened by both Lonergan's subdued yet entirely authentic sensibilities and by Affleck's almost revelatory performance (ie this is unquestionably the highlight of his career thus far). From there, Manchester by the Sea segues into a deliberately-paced yet always compelling midsection in which backstory is slowly-but-surely fleshed out via flashbacks - with Lonergan employing this device to periodically breathtaking effect. (There is, for example, an absolutely astonishing sequence that details Affleck's character's heartbreakingly tragic past.) The narrative subsequently grows more and more absorbing as time progresses, and it's clear, too, that the above-average work from the film's supporting cast, which includes Michelle Williams, Gretchen Mol, and Tate Donovan, perpetuates its increasingly mesmerizing atmosphere. And while the movie does lose a little of its intensity in its final stretch, Manchester by the Sea, by and large, manages to hold the viewer rapt for the duration of its surprisingly brisk 137 minute running time - which is no small feat, certainly, given the nigh interminable nature of Lonergan's previous endeavor.

out of

© David Nusair