By Rich Cline
Shot in 2005, Lonergan's film spent six years in legal and editorial limbo. It may be overlong, but it's a powerfully involving exploration of guilt and self-discovery. It's also packed with astonishingly complex characters and situations.
Lisa (Paquin) is a Manhattan teen living with her single mother Joan (Smith-Cameron), an actress starring in her breakout stage role while seeing a new man (Reno). One day Lisa distracts a bus driver (Ruffalo), who hits a woman (Janney) in the street, an accident that sends Lisa into a spiral of sublimated guilt, as she lashes out in different ways at a nice classmate (Gallagher), her teachers (Damon and Broderick) and mostly her mother. And she doesn't stop there, meddling in people's lives in her effort to achieve a sense of justice.
Lisa's real problem is that she hasn't yet developed an adult sense of isolation and interdependence. So this is actually an intricate coming-of-age movie, even though it doesn't feel like one. We watch in horrified recognition as we see ourselves in every character, even as each one goes through moments in which they are hugely unlikeable, reacting badly and/or doing things that are intensely selfish.
Clearly cut down from a much longer version, subplots come and go suddenly, leaving a lot to the imagination. But this askance structure works in the film's favour, as does the lengthly running time, which lets us get lost in each situation as well as the overarching themes. We never have a clue what anyone is going to say or do next, scenes turn suddenly in unexpected directions, and even Lonergan's flashy camera moves add to the dizzying effect.
Indeed, the title refers to a 19th century poem.
The entire cast is excellent. This is perhaps Paquin's strongest performance yet. She holds our attention - and affection - even after Lisa has lost our sympathy. Smith-Cameron is terrific as a woman desperate to understand her daughter, realising perhaps too late that both of them are being equally narrow-minded. And Berlin has the other notable role as a woman pulled into Lisa's plan before revealing her own limits. This is a rich, moving, deeply provocative film that doesn't deserve to be remembered for its production troubles. Let it speak for itself.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Friday 1st June 2012
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight
Production compaines: Fox Searchlight Pictures, Gilbert Films, Scott Rudin Productions, Mirage Enterprises
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 68 Rotten: 23
Cast & Crew
Starring: Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen, Matt Damon as Mr. Aaron, Mark Ruffalo as Jason Berstone, Matthew Broderick as Andrew Van Tassel, Jeannie Berlin as Emily, Jean Reno as Ramon, Kieran Culkin as Paul, Olivia Thirlby as Monica, John Gallagher Jr. as Darren, Rosemarie DeWitt as Mrs. Marretti, J. Smith-Cameron as Joan, Sarah Steele as Becky, Krysten Ritter as Shopgirl, Allison Janney as Wounded Woman, Josh Hamilton as Victor, Kenneth Lonergan as Karl