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Margaret is an upcoming American drama film written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan. It originally was scheduled for release in 2007 by Fox Searchlight, but was continuously delayed while Lonergan struggled to create a final cut he was satisfied with, resulting in multiple court cases. A 2011 release is planned.
The story revolves around a 17-year-old New York City high school student named Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin), who may have contributed to a bus accident in Manhattan's Upper West Side. Lisa's mother, Joan (played by Lonergan's wife, J. Smith-Cameron), is a single mom grappling with parenting and her acting career. A sexually active teen, Lisa inappropriately flirts with one of her teachers (Matt Damon) while arguing with her classmates about the Middle East. Lisa ultimately becomes involved in a legal action against the bus operator (Mark Ruffalo). The film's title comes from the Margaret in the poem "Spring and Fall: To a Young Child" by 19th century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, briefly alluded to in one of Lisa's classrooms.
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The film's lengthy post-production sparked two lawsuits, which were scheduled to be tried in 2009. In July 2008, Fox Searchlight sued Gary Gilbert and his production company (Camelot Pictures), claiming he had failed to pay the studio half of the film's production costs. Two months later, Camelot Pictures sued Fox Searchlight and Lonergan, alleging that the studio and Lonergan had thwarted Gilbert's many attempts to finish the movie, forcing Camelot to pay for "a clearly inferior and unmarketable film" that Lonergan, several people say, will not support.
Court documents show Margaret started filming in New York in September 2005 and wrapped photography about three months later. It was in the editing room, interviews and court records show, that everything fell apart. Even though he had made only one movie, Lonergan enjoyed "final cut" status as a director, a level of creative autonomy typically enjoyed by A-listers such as Steven Spielberg. That status meant that as long as certain conditions were met (including a running time not to exceed 150 minutes), Lonergan could personally dictate the film's final form—neither the studio nor Gilbert could take it away from him.
Why Lonergan couldn't finish a version of the film he liked is central to the dispute. Even Lonergan's supporters say he is an exacting perfectionist who struggled to find the movie within the footage he had shot. Gilbert's advocates say (and his lawsuit alleges) that the producer gave Lonergan countless chances to finish the movie but that Lonergan failed to take anyone's counsel. "Previews and screenings were scheduled throughout 2006, yet they had to be canceled time and again due to Lonergan's refusal or inability to produce a cut of the picture," Gilbert argued in his suit against Lonergan and Fox Searchlight.
A number of producers and editors—including Scott Rudin, Sydney Pollack and Thelma Schoonmaker—have tried but failed to help Lonergan complete his movie. Gilbert in his legal papers says that Lonergan "failed to keep regular hours", that producer Pollack cut short an editing session "having become disgusted by, and frustrated with, Lonergan's unprofessional and irrational behavior "and that Lonergan "did not listen to, or implement" editor Schoonmaker's suggestions. Gilbert said that when Fox Searchlight refused to pay for additional post-production costs, he footed the bill. At some point around that time, Lonergan borrowed more than $1 million from actor and close friend Matthew Broderick (who has a small part in Margaret) in an attempt to complete the editing of the movie, according to a person close to the production.