Okay, I have a confession to make… I am writing a novel. Even though it’s been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember, and I’m really enjoying the process, I find myself not really talking about it. It feels a bit wanky and self-important and of course leads to the inevitable question: ‘So what’s it about?’ to which I always answer ‘ummm…’. I could sit down and talk about it for hours, but I can’t really sum it up in one sentence. I got to about the halfway point last week when I reached a halt. I felt lost the midst of all these chapters and words and ideas. I felt that if I couldn’t sum the whole thing up in one succinct sentence then it must just be a big mess. The one-liner is something that was heavily pushed during my screenwriting course. We spent hours trying to make a one liner before we even begun writing the script. For example: ‘By playing God do you become the Devil?’. By the end of the course one-liner become like a currency, students swapped them back and forth to compare scripts and ideas. So, when I realised there was no one-liner for me I thought this could only mean goodbye to my half-written novel.
And then I watched Margaret. Sure you can sum up the story in one line ‘A teenage girl contributes to a fatal bus crash which leads to a moral crisis’ but really, that doesn’t do the story justice. That doesn’t capture the themes and questions that this film raises.
The beauty of this film is that isn’t just about the one event. We don’t just see the parts of Lisa, the protagonist, life which are directly affected by the accident. We see every part of her life and the things that affect her, we see her school life, her sexual awakenings, her reaction to her mums new boyfriend, the hurt she causes a boy who has a crush on her. And we also see the landscape this is taking place, the city of New York, the climate at school with students still reeling from the terrorist attacks (this was shot in 2005, but that’s another story). We see differing point of view around Lisa too, her mother, the victims best friend. In other words this film doesn’t abide by any of the ‘rules’ I learnt in screenwriting class.
I read this interview with director Kenneth Lonergan. He says:
‘If you can say it in a sentence, why spend two and a half, three hours putting it in a film or play’
So, thanks to Lonergan, I’ve embraced not having a one-liner. I’ve relaxed and allowed the story to be what it is. Maybe I’ll finish this thing after all.