We're right in the thick of the awards season, which means Academy folks and critics are keeping UPS and FedEx workers busy as For Your Consideration screeners for pretty much every movie that was made in 2011 are shipped in the hopes they will earn some critical love (yes, even "Tower Heist" wants some attention). But one movie that isn't getting sent around is Kenneth Lonergan's long-delayed "Margaret," which landed in theaters this fall with a very limited release and promptly disappeared. But a groundswell is building to not only get the movie to those who weren't able to see it, but to give the film a shot at potential awards season recognition that some think it deserves.
Guy Lodge at In Contention and Richard Brody over at the New Yorker have been the most vocal so far, and a petition has been set up to urge Fox Searchlight to print up some screeners and send them out. And while we could debate the merits of Lonergan's film all day — indeed, it split The Playlist staff who saw it — even from its most ardent champions, there is an acknowledgment that "Margaret" is not without its problems. And those very issues arguably arise from the compromised nature in which it finally saw the light of day. Not to rehash the whole story once again, but essentially, legal battles, financial issues and post-production drama which saw numerous editors take a stab at shaping the movie, finally resulted in the 2 and 1/2 hour, studio-mandated cut that we've seen so far. But as everyone knows, Lonergan had a longer cut, one that could conceivably address many of the last act issues, and we think that if there is going to be any noise raised for the movie, it needs to be for the director's intended version of "Margaret" to be released.
While awards and plaudits are nice, let's face it, those things are ultimately unimportant. If the Kansas Film Critics Society gives "Margaret" their Best Picture and Best Director honors, will anyone actually care beyond the day that news makes the rounds? And let's not pretend any major awards are going to happen for the movie, because at this point, it's not. For the supporters of "Margaret," if they truly care about the movie getting its due, they should be pushing for Fox Searchlight to allow for a longer cut on DVD/BluRay. And as many may have forgotten, we almost had a longer version.
Back in the spring, Martin Scorsese (who executive produced "You Can Count On Me" and had Lonergan co-write "Gangs of New York") was brought in to arbitrate a cut of the movie. We assumed that this was the one we would see in theaters, but as we learned in October after the movie came out, that wasn't the case at all. In fact, Scorsese's cut ran over the 150-minute limit set by Fox Searchlight, and while ideas were tossed around to either give him an executive producer credit and/or allowing for a Martin Scorsese Presents title to be added, those around the film kiboshed the idea as they couldn't justify the extra money it would cost. And given Scorsese's relationship with Lonergan, we'd argue this cut is likely the one closest to the mythical three-hour cut Mark Ruffalo has raved about, and this is what fans of the movie should be demanding. Gearing up a campaign to get screeners sent out of the movie so that it maybe/might get some kind of honors in the coming weeks just seems shortsighted. If there is going to be a push behind "Margaret," it should be for the movie, not for the potential of possible awards or an appearance on a Best Of list.
When "Margaret" works, which is does largely in its first half, it's one of the best portraits of the emotional scars left on post 9/11 New York City ever put on the big screen. And though this writer had some big issues with second half of the movie, one wonders what more breathing room would do to amend those concerns (particularly a key, late act revelation that as it stands, comes completely out of nowhere). But in its current form, it's almost unfair to judge "Margaret" — whether you love it or hate it — knowing that in essence, it's still not complete. The script was reportedly 186 pages and if one page equals one minute of screentime, well, you can do the math to figure just how much has been possibly excised from the current release.
The true legacy of a movie is not in the awards it wins, but in the film itself. And if there is going to be battle cry for "Margaret," it should be to make sure that Lonergan's vision, somehow, someday, finally gets realized.