Anna Paquin and Mark Ruffalo star in "Margaret." (Myles Aronowitz, Fox Searchlight…)
The saga of writer-director Kenneth Lonergan's nearly lost film "Margaret" had yet another chapter written in Los Angeles this week. Shot in 2005, the movie starring Anna Paquin was beset by post-production delays and legal disputes and finally opened in near-empty movie houses last fall. Following a year-end critical caucus around the film, including much online championing of its underdog status, it had a moderately more successful second-go at theaters early this year.
Recently released on home video, "Margaret" was shown Tuesday in a 3-hour, 6-minute extended version to a full house at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (That cut is available only as part of a new 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD set along with the 2-hour, 29-minute theatrical version.)
Among the crowd were filmmakers Michael Mann and Jay Duplass, musician Michael Des Barres, actresses Winona Ryder, Molly Shannon and Jane Adams, and Paquin's husband and "True Blood" costar Stephen Moyer.
Before the screening, Lonergan explained why the three-hour version was billed as an "extended cut." "I don't say it's a director's cut. That means the other one was something you didn't mean and this is, and that's not true. So perhaps it's simply a totemic symbol of my indecisiveness."
The inclusion of 37 more minutes of footage does make the two versions of "Margaret" quite distinct, though the core story is the same: Paquin's character Lisa grapples with guilt over her role in a bus accident that took the life of a stranger. In supporting roles are Jeannie Berlin, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Allison Janey, Jean Reno, Kieran Culkin and Lonergan's wife, J. Smith-Cameron.
The theatrical version is more propulsive, a ruminative freight train pushing Lisa through the world as the film morphs into something akin to a legal thriller. The extended cut heightens the thematic idea that Lisa is awakening to the fact that the world does not revolve around her, that other people have problems of their own.
There are a number of scenes not in the theatrical version — including a visit to an abortion clinic previously referenced but not seen. The sound design in the extended cut turns the volume up on what should be background conversations, most spectacularly in a diner scene in which Lisa spurns an aspiring male suitor as banal chatter drowns them out.
"In life you do end up having really awkward horrible conversations in places that are public and you can hear someone at the next table having a kind of random and trivial conversation.... And it sort of makes it that much worse somehow," said Paquin during the post-screening Q&A.
Most people who see the film in its new incarnation on home video will be meeting "Margaret" for the first time. Asked which version newcomers to "Margaret" should watch first, Lonergan said he didn't think it mattered.
"I hope they're different enough that they're both worth watching, as opposed to feeling like you just saw the same thing," he said. "I think the most accurate way to describe it is they are two different approaches to the same story, and I think they are both valid."