Thursday Trailer Face-Off! Margaret vs. Fireflies in the Garden


Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Margaret vs. Fireflies in the Garden, twolong-shelved dramas involving fatal traffic accidents, yelling, poetry, and A-list actors.






In Margaret, a 17-year-old Manhattan high-school student, Lisa Cohen, makes an appointment with a Culkin to lose her virginity. She has to take a bus to get to the virginity-losing location, and when she waves the bus down, she distracts the driver, who doesn’t notice a woman crossing in front of the bus—whom he fatally strikes. The film deals with the fallout of the accident; Lisa develops an inappropriate relationship with her teacher, grapples with whether to tell police the truth about the accident (which would get the bus driver fired), becomes alienated from her mom, and just generally watches her world spiral out of control. In Fireflies in the Garden, an aging mother and father are on their way to a family reunion when the father, who’s driving, accidentally strikes a pedestrian, killing the mother (and, presumably, the pedestrian too). At her funeral, the couple’s adult son makes all kinds of trouble and digs up a bunch of old family dirt, and his dad acts like an asshole. We’ll give it to Margaret, which seems more ethically ambiguous—Lisa clearly feels responsible for the accident, but was it actually her fault? Advantage: Margaret

One fun thing about these casts is that since both films were made so long ago (Margaret was supposed to come out in 2007; Fireflies in the Garden premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2008), all of the actors involved were in totally different stages of their careers. Anna Paquin wasn’t a vampire-sex-crazed fairy yet! Matt Damon was still a clean-cut-young-teacher type (this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he’s aged a lot in the last five years or so—compare his look in this trailer to the brand-new trailer for We Bought a Zoo). We’ve always liked Paquin, who stars in Margaret alongside Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Allison Janney(!), Kieran Culkin, Krysten Ritter, Olivia Thirlby, and Rosemarie DeWitt. Fireflies in the Garden gets an immediate point subtraction for casting Ryan Reynolds as a writer—come on, guys, was James Franco too busy? (James Franco has never been too busy.) But otherwise, it, too, stars some people we wish we saw more often: Willem Dafoe as Reynolds’ domineering dad, Julia Roberts as his mother, Emily Watson as his sister, Carrie-Anne Moss (where have you been?!) as his ex-wife. Margaret wins this one, though, mostly on the strength of how cute Matt Damon is—and how we kind of completely believe Mark Ruffalo as a befuddled bus driver. Advantage: Margaret

Use of Poetry
Weirdly, both of these films’ titles are references to poems. Margaret is called Margaret, rather than Lisa, because of a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child” (please enjoy the wallpaper on the page at that link), which is taught in one of Lisa’s classes and is about how little kids are naïve and don’t yet know the world is bad. Fireflies in the Garden alludes to a Robert Frost poem of the same name, which comes to represent Reynolds’ and Dafoe’s characters’ contentious relationship: Dafoe is a tenured professor, and the younger version of Reynolds pretends to have written the poem in front of his dad’s colleagues. Dafoe is so embarrassed that he punishes his son by forcing him to hold his weighted arms horizontal for a really long time. Yeesh! Fireflies in the Garden wins this one, for finding a way to incorporate poetry into a film without falling back on the standard lit-class trope we’ve seen on one too many episodes of high-school dramas. (Easy A called this trope out to great effect: “Ironically, we were studying The Scarlet Letter, but isn’t that always the way with these teenage tales? The literature you read in class always seems to have a strong connection with whatever angsty adolescent drama is being recounted.”) Advantage: Fireflies in the Garden

Facial Hair
Both films have pretty solid contenders in this category: Ruffalo’s disheveled five o’clock shadow in Margaret and Reynolds’ full-on mountain-man situation happening in Fireflies in the Garden. We’ll give it to Reynolds, since his beard is a braver choice attractiveness-wise: Ruffalo has always looked best with a little stubble, but it takes real dedication to a role to totally conceal a jaw as chiseled as Reynolds’. Advantage: Fireflies in the Garden

Speaking of Ruffalo, another thing to recommend Margaret is that it was directed by someone who knows how to utilize his gifts to great effect: Kenneth Lonergan, the Oscar-nominated playwright, screenwriter, and director who also helmed You Can Count on Me. This is only his second feature, but he’s written more—most notably Analyze This and Gangs of New York. (We’re going to turn a blind eye to The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle; everybody’s gotta pay the bills.) Fireflies in the Garden was written and directed by Dennis Lee, a relatively new player on the film scene; he also wrote and directed a short film and subsequent feature called Jesus Henry Christ, starring Michael Sheen and Toni Collette, but that’s all. Advantage: Margaret

The Verdict
It’s one of those weeks where we’re going to tell you to please see both of these movies; they both look good, and it seems unfair that they were shelved for so long, and maybe if you see them, Carrie-Anne Moss and Rosemarie DeWitt will continue being cast in things. But our attention is more piqued by Margaret, which seems to grapple with truly interesting moral questions and also capture the weird, desperate urgency of being 17. Winner: Margaret