Thursday, August 25, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene and Me

This past week, I went to an advanced screening of Martha Marcy May Marlene. For months, the film world has been aflutter with news of this festival darling. It is one of the few films to be screened at the "Big 3" -- Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto (September 8-18).

Martha Marcy May Marlene is about a young girl, Martha, who escapes an abusive, cult-ish "family" and moves in with her sister and brother-in-law. Transitioning from the communal community that promoted living in the moment, to the excessive home of a yuppie couple proves extremely difficult for Martha, who went by Marcy May and Marlene in the cult. The title of the film describes it perfectly in that Martha and Marcy May/Marlene, two very different people, are bonded together. At all times, each one is trying to push the other out, but remnants of a past life are constantly forcing themselves into the present.

The film, written and directed by newb Sean Durkin, stars fellow novice Elizabeth Olsen. Upon entering the scene, Olsen was identified as the younger sister of twin moguls Mary-Kate and Ashley. However, after this film opens commercially, I very much doubt that her only claim to notoriety will be her famous siblings. Beyond "solve any crime by dinnertime," this was one of her first films and it was one of the best (if not the best) performances I've seen all year. Olsen flawlessly evokes the pain, embarrassment, and inner-conflict of Martha, and the confusion, devotion, and trepidation of Marcy May. Her performance is multi-faceted and refreshing.

Equally accomplished is Sean Durkin's screenplay and direction. In a Q&A after the screening, Durkin said that he researched several cults, including but not limited to the Manson Family, in preparation for this movie. The film is both believable and jarring. Due to brilliant editing and organization, the story moves seamlessly from the present to the past and back. Sporadically throughout the film there are episodes which may or may not be hallucinations. In the Q&A session, Olsen praised the film becasue "everything's left up to interpretation. Nothing's spoon-fed to you." Though this uncertainty upset some of my fellow audience members, it intrigued me because it added another element of mystery to an already unfamiliar situation.

Martha Marcy May Marlene, which also features Hugh Dancy, Sarah Paulson, and John Hawkes, is an excellent film and a launching pad for two very bright careers. I would especially keep an eye out for Ms. Olsen, who has several more titles coming out in the near future.

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