Was ‘Margaret’ worth the wait?

With Kenneth Lonergan‘s “Margaret” screening at the Academy this weekend, concerns of whether or not the long-delayed film has outlived its shelf life are in dispute. While postponed releases are a regularity in Hollywood, the six-year gap between filming and theatrical distribution for “Margaret” could dim its once-promised awards potential.


After all, when Longergan, a respected playwright, made his directorial debut with “You Can Count on Me” in 2000 he reaped a screenplay bid while star Laura Linney contended in Best Actress. “Margaret” began shooting in 2005 with Oscar winners Anna Paquin (“The Piano,” 1993) and Matt Damon (“Good Will Hunting,” 1997). Paquin plays a high school student who may have contributed to a Manhattan bus crash with Damon as her teacher.

I was predicting that the film would be a heavy hitter at the Oscars. But Fox Searchlight Pictures, the film’s distributor, did not release the film in 2007 as planned and the release went on indefinite hiatus. Lonergan struggled to assemble a final cut, leading to a number of legal disputes. Reports of the script’s sprawling nature were numerous. Ultimately, Martin Scorsese and his long-time editor Thelma Schoonmaker created a version of which Lonergan approved. This was released Friday to mixed reviews.

However, Paquin received some outstanding notices. Rex Reed called hers “a very fine performance in the very odd starring role of a very bewildering film called ‘Margaret.'” Could Paquin be a Best Actress contender?

There is precedent in this race for rewarding a performer in a long-delayed film. In 1994, “Blue Sky” finally debuted despite having been completed in 1990. The film had been shelved after its studio, Orion Pictures, went bankrupt. Jessica Lange earned tremendous reviews for her performance and she overtook front-runners Susan Sarandon (“The Client”) and Jodie Foster (“Nell”) in the race for Best Actress at the Oscars.

However, “Proof” saw its awards hopes fade when it was pushed back a year. The film reunited director John Madden, who helmed 1998 Best Picture champ “Shakespeare in Love,” with that film’s Oscar-winning leading lady Gwyneth Paltrow. Based on the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, “Proof” was scheduled for release in December 2004 with a heavy awards push. 

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But the film’s distributor, Miramax, was undergoing management changes which led to a sudden delay. The company’s founders, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, left Miramax to start their new studio, The Weinstein Company. “Proof” unspooled in only a handful of theaters in September of 2005. Though Paltrow was recognized with a Golden Globe nomination, the film was otherwise totally ignored by awards groups. The Weinstein Company did run a strong campaign for their release “Mrs. Henderson Presents,” and its star, Judi Dench, was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars.

Of course, Lonergan and his stars may simply be happy their film is even seeing the light of day. When Miramax purchased distribution rights to “Prozac Nation” in 2001, it resulted in the film’s indefinite shelving. After multiple re-edits and test screenings, the film eventually went straight to DVD in 2005.

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