- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

NEW YORK (AP) - After lawsuits, endless editing delays and a theatrical release so miniscule it spawned a social media campaign, Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret” finally got a moment to celebrate.

The playwright-director debuted his preferred, 188-minute cut of the film in a kind of belated premiere Monday night in New York. The event was a culmination of support for what some consider an unfairly treated masterpiece.

“I’m extremely glad that I was able to make it,” Lonergan said introducing the film while adding that sleeping masks “and socks from first class” were permissible for the lengthy film.

“Margaret,” Lonergan’s long-awaited follow-up to 2000’s “You Can Count on Me,” was shot in 2005 but the director struggled to make an edit of 150 minutes or less, as he was obligated to do. Lonergan sought help from others, including Martin Scorsese who, with his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, made a cut of their own.

Squabbles ensued with producer Gary Gilbert (who’s co-owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers with his brother, Dan Gilbert). Fox Searchlight sued Gilbert, who countersued the studio and Lonergan. Finally, last year, a cut seconds shy of 150 minutes was released in just two theaters.

That backstory has made “Margaret” one of the most curious releases in recent years, and added a new chapter to the history of Hollywood tussles over editing control. Some critics loved the film, including Roger Ebert who called the film one of 2011’s best, and the New Yorker, which declared it “one of the decade’s cinematic wonders.” Champions for “Margaret” multiplied online, where they banded together as “Team Margaret.”

“There’s something in the Ethernet or Internet or Twitter or somewhere out in the world called Team Margaret, which I don’t even know what to say,” said Lonergan. “It’s like a flock of angels on the horrible computers I despise out there trying to save my movie.”

The film stars Anna Paquin as Lisa Cohen, a teenager on the Upper West side whose innocent playfulness contributes to a city bus (driven by Mark Ruffalo) running over and killing a pedestrian (Allison Janney). Confronted with death, Lisa spirals in moral confusion while pursuing justice for the accident, leaving her actress mother (J. Smith-Cameron) largely helpless on the sidelines.

Much of the cast of “Margaret” attended the event Monday, including Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Jeannie Berlin and Smith-Cameron, who’s also Lonergan’s wife. (A similar Los Angeles event is planned, where Paquin is expected to attend.) Playwright Tony Kushner moderated a Q&A after the film, during which he called the New York-set “Margaret” “maybe in some way the greatest film I’ve seen about the city.”

Whereas the earlier “Margaret” sometimes felt choppy and awkwardly paced, the longer version has the fully operatic feeling originally intended (the opera plays a key role in the film). Aside from a few added scenes, it’s stuffed with overheard dialogue of New York’s many competing voices: bits of conversation that fill the film as Lisa awakens to the world and the city outside her teenage self-centric sphere.

Though long, Lonergan’s “Margaret” is always compelling and seems destined to continue to grow in stature as moviegoers (most of whom never had a chance to see it in the theater) seek it out. On Tuesday, Fox Searchlight released the movie on DVD and Blue-ray, including both the theatrical version and Lonergan’s favored edit.

What appears to have caused so much difficulty in the editing is the film’s broad perspective of New York _ a fullness only really grasped in the long cut. Lonergan’s camera (and microphones) capture the overlapping lives of the city. One tourist overheard seemed to sum up the axis of the 9/11-themed “Margaret”: “First we go to Ground Zero, then we go to the theater.”

In an interview in December, Matt Damon, who co-stars as a teacher in the film, said the process had been “devastating” for Lonergan.

“One of the reasons this took so long is because he didn’t want to give up and he’s put his whole soul into this thing to the exclusion of any other work he could have been doing,” said Damon. “And it wasn’t a triumph at the end because they weren’t able to release his version.”

Now, that’s changed with the DVD release. In answering audience questions, Lonergan spoke without anger over the long road for the film, but a kind of sanguine acceptance.

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