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It is Margaret you mourn for.
October 12, 2011 11:23 PM   Subscribe

In 2000, acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan directed his first film, the critically acclaimed You Can Count on Me, which among other things kickstarted the career of Mark Ruffalo. In 2006, Lonergan got $12 million to film his follow-up, called Margaret, and starring Ruffalo, Anna Paquin, Jeannie Berlin, Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, and Kieran Culkin. Then things got ugly.

Lonergan (figuratively) locked himself in the editing room, clutching a three-hour cut that the studio, Fox Searchlight, considered unreleasable. After three years of negotiations and unheeded advice from various master film editors, the movie got taken away from Lonergan and became the subject of a lawsuit between Searchlight and the production company.

Earlier this year, everyone seemed to finally come to their senses. Martin Scorsese and his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker were brought on to put together a workable cut of the film, and a release date was announced.

On October 1, with little fanfare, an exasperated Fox Searchlight finally dumped Margaret, now slimmed down to 150 minutes, into limited release. Despite some glowing reviews from the cinephile intelligentsia, the film has performed dismally at the box office even by art-house standards, disappearing from most cities after a one-week run.
posted by eugenen (37 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is it just me or does Mark Ruffalo really look like he is going to age into Vincent D'Onofrio?
posted by vidur at 11:31 PM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


You Can Count on Me is a great film. I saw it a decade ago, just one time, but I still remember most of the scenes and that the acting--by Linney, Broderick, and Ruffalo--is great across the board. Much in the vein of the comic/tragic films of Alexander Payne. Kenneth Lonergan has a cameo as a priest, IIRC.
posted by zardoz at 12:13 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, loved You Can Count on Me, just stellar all around, great writing and direction by Lonergan, great acting and chemistry between Linney and Ruffalo. I thought Ruffalo in particular deserved the Oscar for best actor that year, and I still think he's going to nab one sooner or later with the right part, and I'll bet money on that.

Also, huge props to him for supporting #OcccupyWallStreet.

I've been wondering what the heck has been holding up Lonergan on his next film. He seemed like major new writing and directing talent on his way. Lonergan needs to move on to his next film and let this be, eventually he can do a directors cut with Scorcese's clout behind him.
posted by Skygazer at 2:34 AM on October 13, 2011


Kenneth Lonergan has a cameo as a priest, IIRC.

Lonergan, playing Pastor Ron, is talking to Terry (Mark Ruffalo) about what he likes about his job:

RON: You know, Terry, a lot of people come to see me with all kinds of problems. Drugs, alcohol, marital problems, sexual problems, health problems.
TERRY: Great job you got.
RON: Well... I like it. Because even in this little town, I feel like what I do is very connected with the real center of people's lives. I'm not saying I'm always Mr. Effective, but I don't feel like my life is off to the side of what's important. You know? I don't feel my happiness and comfort are based on closing my eyes to trouble within myself or trouble in other people. I don't feel like a negligible little scrap, floating around in some kind of empty void, with no sense of connectedness to anything around me except by virtue of whatever little philosophies I can scrape together on my own...
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:08 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


“Brilliant artist” or not, the idea of granting Lonergan a 150-minute final cut seems insane...

Why is that? There have been commercially-successful films longer than that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:20 AM on October 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know nothing about the specifics of this falling out, but I do know how the thing with Scorsese works because he agreed to do the same thing on a film I wanted to direct.

The deal with Lonergan and Scorsese was that Scorsese acted as exec producer, which in Scorsese's case basically meant that in a face-off between the studio and Lonergan, he would wade in and deal. In Scorsese's case this is as much a protection for the director as the studio because, these days at least, if MS says 'don't touch it, the cut's fine' the studio has a very hard time over-ruling him. However, getting MS involved is deploying the nuclear option and nobody wants to do it.

There is nothing particularly unusual about a 150 minute final cut. It's long, but by no means unreleasable.
posted by unSane at 4:33 AM on October 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


By the way, the movieline piece actually says Lonergan had final cut up to 120 minutes, which sounds a lot more sensible.
posted by unSane at 4:35 AM on October 13, 2011


“Brilliant artist” or not, the idea of granting Lonergan a 150-minute final cut seems insane...

Sex And The City II is 146 minutes.
posted by Ian A.T. at 4:58 AM on October 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Ian, you just melted my brain with that little fact.

I liked Mark Ruffalo best when he was playing me and all my friends in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
posted by to sir with millipedes at 5:06 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


For a $12million film, I'm surprised Fox Searchlight didn't just let him release what he wanted. For movie studios, this is practically small claims court.
posted by xingcat at 5:37 AM on October 13, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think that the reasoning behind limiting the running time of the movie is that it probably wouldn't spend that much time in the theater in any event and the studio would want to have it shown as many times as they could within that run. SATC 2 may have been a sucky movie (by most accounts), but--and apologies in advance, this will depress you--it made back about three times its production costs.

Of course, there are a lot of other factors that could have made this at least a modest success, such as releasing it less than a decade after the director's first movie, or promoting it on the basis that the lead actress is in a popular TV series, even if there's probably not a lot of overlap between that fandom and the market for this film. (Ditto for Ruffalo's next big project.) And 150 minutes is nowhere near the length of the director's cut of Heaven's Gate, to name one notorious example. I'm a little pissed that I didn't even hear about this until it had come and gone, but some crap like Bucky Larson gets promoted to hell and back, for fuck's sake.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:45 AM on October 13, 2011


s it just me or does Mark Ruffalo really look like he is going to age into Vincent D'Onofrio?

I loled because for years I thought they were the same guy.

Count on Me was "ok" but I kinda wanted more. I thought The Kids Are Alright (with Ruffalo playing a more stable version of the same character) was a little better.

After Patricia Clarkson, Laura Linney is probably my favorite actress. She pretty much never disappoints.

I'll likely watch this one if it's available, but I'm not sweating it.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:52 AM on October 13, 2011


I wonder what's going through the heads of the people who didn't want to deal with Lonergan's cut. What purpose did they think they were serving? Was the movie a shorter cut away from being a blockbuster? Was delaying the movie's release a savvy business move? What did those stubborn people do, except to waste the studio's time and money?

I haven't seen the movie, but this adventure reminds me of Once Upon a Time in America. That film was chopped into nonsense, for similarly lunatic reasons.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:58 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Count on Me was "ok" but I kinda wanted more. I thought The Kids Are Alright (with Ruffalo playing a more stable version of the same character) was a little better.

My thoughts exactly.
posted by callmejay at 6:11 AM on October 13, 2011


Much in the vein of the comic/tragic films of Alexander Payne.

Really? I think Payne is a trite hack, while I thought Count On Me was refreshing and clean.

Count on Me was "ok" but I kinda wanted more. I thought The Kids Are Alright (with Ruffalo playing a more stable version of the same character) was a little better.

I have a real grudge against The Kids Are Alright. The acting was pretty good from Ruffalo, but I thought the message behind the film itself (or what I took to be the message) was just horrible. I liked it ok as I watched it, but by the end I was furious.
posted by OmieWise at 6:26 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kirth Gerson: "Why is that? There have been commercially-successful films longer than that."

Industry standard for films that are not predicted to be blockbusters is that they be no longer 120 minutes including previews and commercials. This allows theaters three showings during prime time on a weekend evening rather than two, generating more revenue. Ticket sales go back to the studio, so they want as many showings as possible for every day it's in the theater. Most theaters make their profit on concession rather than ticket sales, you want a rapid turnover of fresh audiences when you're not expecting a packed house.

Directors like James Cameron, Martin Scorcese etc., can get away with demanding longer final cuts of their films because they have a track record of making commercially successful and often iconic movies. But if a studio isn't sure how a movie will do, there is nearly always additional pressure on the part of the studio to keep the final cut under 120 minutes.

It's a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. But it's one that's often followed.
posted by zarq at 7:07 AM on October 13, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh, and in film school this is sometimes referred to as the "bathroom rule." Anything over 120 minutes and people will need to leave the movie to use the bathroom.

But there really is an economic basis behind it.
posted by zarq at 7:10 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Been a big fan of Lonergan (and Ruffalo) since This Is Our Youth, Off-Broadway. Hope he gets untangled from this mess and gets back to writing.
posted by papercake at 7:17 AM on October 13, 2011


Omiewise, you might want to check out Lisa Cholodenko's other films, in particular High Art and Laurel Canyon: in common with The Kids Are Alright, the main characters are introduced as part of a comfortable little menage, an interloper arrives, squirm-worthy behavior ensues as the menage is disassembled, ranks close, the interloper is ejected, and everyone goes home black-and-blue, sadder but not necessarily wiser. She's not big on happy endings. Good movies, in any case.
posted by Kinbote at 7:18 AM on October 13, 2011


As a writer, it pains me to say this, but in the DVD era when we can see "restored Director's cuts" of movies after they've been cut down at studio insistence for theatrical release, I really can't think of a instance off the top of my head where the studio wasn't right. (The Abyss being the iconic version of this where Cameron's extended cut really didn't add anything except time.)

I hope it's obvious that I'm not claiming the businesspeople are better artists than the artists. But, again, as someone who creates, I've realized that we often get too close to our projects and it's hard to maintain objectivity.

I'm sure we've all seen what happens when a creator - and I can cite both filmmakers and novelists - gets big enough to resist editorial oversight. You get things like M. Night Shyamalan, where the movies just get progessively more self-indulgent. If you're lucky, you get something more like J.K. Rowling. As far as I know from not having read them but heard much discussion, the books stay consistently good, but each one seems exponentially bigger than the one before it.
posted by Naberius at 7:30 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


As far as I know from not having read them but heard much discussion, the books stay consistently good, but each one seems exponentially bigger than the one before it.

In general I'd agree, but the last one could have used some heavy editing IMO... the wandering in the wilderness stuff seemed almost bizarrely long and uneventful to me.
posted by Huck500 at 7:53 AM on October 13, 2011


Margaret was pretty good. Saw it on Monday. While it does have its share of quiet moments and long pans, a rather smart friend of mine observed that if it were much shorter, it would collapse into melodrama (due to a too-high density of dramatic incident). Instead it manages to maintain some distance and quietly observe a character who imagines herself to be living in a melodrama. Really very good. If you get a chance, it's worth seeing.

And Jeannie Berlin is amazing.
posted by sixswitch at 7:58 AM on October 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Omiewise, you might want to check out Lisa Cholodenko's other films, in particular High Art and Laurel Canyon...

I've seen them actually, and I like them much more than I liked Kids. My issue was actually that I thought that things were too repaired in the couple, while Mark Ruffalo was ultimately painted as the villain. I thought Benning and Moore came out looking, essentially, too good at the end, and their relationship looked too good also. And Ruffalo came out looking too bad. Given the inherently political nature of the content (not just the lesbian marriage, but the comment on the ongoing debate about the proper role of birth and/or donor parents), I thought that this was a horrible ending. I particularly objected to Benning, who we already knew to be removed and dismissive of her wife, getting to be so self-righteous and aggrieved in the scene where Ruffalo comes to the house. Had that been handled differently I likely would have liked the movie more.

But, yes, I like those other two movies quite well.
posted by OmieWise at 8:03 AM on October 13, 2011


Matt Damon is one of my big celebrity crushes, and I'd always wondered what happened to this movie that it wasn't getting released. It makes me wonder whether this kind of struggle about the editing of a film is normal for arthouse pictured and it just gets settled a lot more quickly because it doesn't violate the bathroom rule.
posted by immlass at 8:15 AM on October 13, 2011


Sex And The City II is 146 minutes.

Is that supposed to be a positive argument for long runtimes?

(I don't mind long runtimes myself but I'd have gone with say Godfather Part II.)
posted by kmz at 8:46 AM on October 13, 2011


Gone With the Wind was 222 minutes. You could go to the bathroom during the intermission, and get a popcorn and coke refill at the same time. FWIW
posted by TwoToneRow at 8:50 AM on October 13, 2011


TwoToneRow: "Gone With the Wind was 222 minutes. You could go to the bathroom during the intermission, and get a popcorn and coke refill at the same time. FWIW"

Intermissions are good for theaters, who make their money on concession sales, not studios, who make their money on ticket sales.

If a studio can only fill a house twice a night then simple economics dictates that they're not going to want to have an intermission which might reduce the performance to once a night. Unless they were absolutely positive it will remain in the theaters for 3x as many weeks as a regular movie. No studio is eager to take that gamble on an initial run. They might do it with a proven success, like say, Titanic. (Gone with the Wind has been re-released to theaters three times since 1939.)

This, by the way, is why Peter Jackson's lengthy epics don't have intermissions, even though they really need 'em. ;)
posted by zarq at 9:03 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Still not a patch on Greed.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2011


I haven't seen You Can Count On Me, but this film has enough actors whose work I really enjoy and decent enough reviews that I might go see it, since it's still playing at our little arthouse theater, at least for now.
posted by disillusioned at 11:25 AM on October 13, 2011


I tend to agree with Naberius. Given that any movie now can have a theatrical version and a director's cut version, I'm not sure why a director -- a second-time art-house director at that -- would choose to die on this particular hill.

Cameron et al. have name recognition -- as directors (!) they can open movies. SATCII was a sequel and a part of a brand that had already been a popular TV series and was originally a best-selling book. But for obscure art films, the economics just aren't there. Heck, even Tree of Life was a dicey proposition.
posted by dhartung at 1:15 PM on October 13, 2011


Intermissions are good for theaters, who make their money on concession sales, not studios, who make their money on ticket sales.

Not being an industry insider, is that why we had the experiment of Kill Bill 1&2?
posted by mannequito at 2:26 PM on October 13, 2011


And the other side, Grindhouse, billed as a double feature with an intermission.

Given that any movie now can have a theatrical version and a director's cut version

It's tough to say "my directors cut rocks balls, but all the good stuff was cut out, that's the reason you think the edited version sucks." If it's your reputation at stake, it might be better to be seen as a pariah than a director with a crappy sophomore effort who was walked all over by the studio. My 2¢.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:52 PM on October 13, 2011


zarq: "Oh, and in film school this is sometimes referred to as the "bathroom rule." Anything over 120 minutes and people will need to leave the movie to use the bathroom.

But there really is an economic basis behind it.
"

Movie theaters generally show a film four times a day, five if there's a midnight show on the weekends. Two matinee films, two evening films. If a movie is under two hours, they can be shown all four (or five) times, but if a film is around two and a half hours, the theater manager may decide to only show it for one matinee and one evening show, purely out of time constraints. This is the main reason it would lose money.
posted by zardoz at 2:53 PM on October 13, 2011


I was an undergrad at NYU's Dramatic Writing Program when Lonergan was a graduate student in the same program. I remember him as someone who committed to his work, and with a tremendous amount of integrity. If he was hanging on to it, there was very likely an excellent reason for doing so.
posted by ltracey at 6:08 PM on October 13, 2011


[I just dropped in to wonder who else saw the FPP's title and smiled. . . ]
posted by flotson at 12:26 AM on October 14, 2011


Not being an industry insider, is that why we had the experiment of Kill Bill 1&2?

Pretty much. It's also why Tarantino and Rodriguez had to fight like hell to keep Grindhouse in one piece. (It was split up for DVD release.) And probably a big part of the reason why it didn't do well at all in theaters.
posted by Naberius at 4:47 AM on October 14, 2011


Oh, missed jabberjaw's reference to Grindhouse, "billed as a double feature with an intermission."

Was there an intermission? I don't remember that. I may be wrong, but I recall it as Planet Terror, then straight into the fake trailers, then straight into Death Proof without ever stopping.
posted by Naberius at 4:50 AM on October 14, 2011


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