Lisa Cohen (played by Anna Paquin) is really smart. She’s studying in a class of intellectuals at a Brooklyn High School in New York. She’s pretty good at school and loves nothing more than to debate the issues of the day with her politically aware classmates. Her teachers are all challenged by her – her maths teacher Mr Aaron (by Matt Damon) is overwhelmed by her confidence, her English teacher John (by Matthew Broderick) is exasperated by her forthrightness and her political science teachers struggle to keep their class under control when she’s there. Lisa lives with her actress mother, Joan (by J. Smith-Cameron) and her younger brother; her father now lives in California. One day, while Lisa is out shopping she starts to muck around … her actions lead to her witnessing a road accident where a pedestrian is killed. Lisa is deeply impacted by this and her life is taken over by it – she feels she must take steps to correct the injustice caused to the victim. She’s determined that the driver involved, Maretti (by Mark Ruffalo) be held to account for his part in the accident and she mounts a campaign to achieve this.
I found this movie very slow and hard going. Lisa is highly intelligent and insightful, but she’s also immature and idealistic, so her expectations of life and social justice are firm and unyielding. With her intelligence comes confidence, almost arrogance – most of her rich-kid intellectual class mates are afflicted with this also. She wants to bring to life a point based on highest principles, but hasn’t learned that compromises must be made in life along the way too. Her mother is infuriated by her behaviour, but she sticks it out because she loves her and she can see Lisa is troubled. Lisa’s brother is too young to understand. Lisa continues her spoilt, opinionated, selfish, childish behavior – she becomes promiscuous and even more precocious – to the bewilderment of everyone around her. She gets told some home truths as the story plays out – which she richly deserves, particularly by the victim’s long-term friend, Emily (by Jeannie Berlin). Anna Paquin does do a good job as this totally awful girl and the London Critics Circle Film Awards awarded her their Actress of the Year award in 2012 for her performance. By the way, nobody in the movie is actually called “Margaret”, that’s a reference to a play that is read in one of the scenes. Matthew Broderick gets some good work to do and he’s fine, but Matt Damon is totally wasted here, I’m not sure what he was thinking taking on such a pathetic role. J. Smith-Cameron does well as Lisa’s mother, Joan, she’s probably best I think. Perhaps I missed something with this one ….
Made in 2011. Directed by Kenneth Lonergan.