If you've seen ads for Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" (and you probably haven't), which opens in two theaters this weekend, you might wonder how the CGI wizards up at the Lucasfilm compound made Matt Damon and Anna Paquin look so young. After all, Damon is a burly gray bear now (in "Contagion" and "The Adjustment Bureau," he looks like Jason Bourne's dad), and Paquin, who plays a high school student in the film, is having all kinds of weird vampire sex every week on HBO. How'd they do that? Well, they filmed "Margaret" in 2005. That's how they did it.
"Margaret" was an attempt by Lonergan -- a playwright whose sole directorial film credit was the great "You Can Count On Me" -- to make a big 9/11 Piece Of All-Encompassing Art. It wrapped production in October 2005 and all was on schedule ... and then Lonergan lost control. The sophomore filmmaker was given final cut on his film -- as long as it ran shorter than 150 minutes -- and, essentially, this final cut drove Lonergan mad. He couldn't make his film fit, he couldn't pull it together and, finally, he refused to let any version of it be seen it at all. This led to lawsuits and madness and all kinds of problems. When Fox Searchlight cut off funding for Lonergan's endless tinkering, he actually borrowed $1 million from his friend (and star) Matthew Broderick to finish it. (Broderick probably shouldn't expect that back anytime soon.)
That lawsuits finally wrapped up last year, and the film (which Martin Scorsese, who tried to help Lonergan with the editing, called "brilliant" back in 2006) is finally slinking into theaters, hidden and unnoticed, tomorrow. Most critics have not been nearly as kind as Scorsese, including our own Tim Grierson. Lonergan, regardless of how this film does, is a supremely talented writer, and his career is far from over. But you can probably bet on him never getting final cut, again, ever.
It's just funny: You spend six years of your life obsessed on a project, and it ends up dumped in a couple of tiny theaters when no one's paying attention, for probably no longer than one weekend. There's a lesson in that somewhere.