‘Martha Marcy,’ my, my, my

Posted by · 8:52 am · August 30th, 2011

After the film caused a major splash at Sundance in January and continued the discussion at Cannes in May, it’s safe to say I’ve been champing at the bit to see what Sean Durkin’s “Martha Marcy May Marlene” had in store. I expected an above average indie experience with highlights of talent to likely be scattered across projects in the future, sure. But I didn’t expect such a complete, layered, visionary construction.

I share Guy’s feelings out of Cannes pretty much word for word. It’s an elegantly structured film that not only finds a unique way of telling backstory but bleeds it into the present in such a way as to put the viewer right in the paranoid perspective of the troubled Martha (Elizabeth Olsen). And it’s not just writerly chops on display from the first-time feature filmmaker. Durkin weaves this menagerie of slow-boiling intrigue while getting quality work out of his actors.

Olsen is every bit the revelation she’s been considered these last eight months. Her performance is an unsettling slice of lived-in, burrowed-under skill. She betrays flashes of a former self with her eyes, is meticulous in mannered moments and emits paranoia so precisely it leaves you wondering what’s real yourself. She’s some intriguing mixture of Vera Farmiga and Maggie Gyllenhaal on the outside, but something so fresh and unique on the inside. It’s stunning work, really.

John Hawkes offers more of the sinister stoicism that turned so many heads last year in “Winter’s Bone,” but there’s a tenderness under it all that frankly makes the performance all the more anxiety-inducing. Sarah Paulson is top notch as a caring sister with her limits and Brady Corbet is almost more unnerving than Hawkes when he gets his moments.

I’ll leave it at that because, as I said, I’m pretty much with Guy on this one. I want to say, though, that much like “The Tree of Life,” this was a brave, somewhat outside-the-box pick-up by Fox Searchlight Pictures. It’s great to see the studio taking on real labors of love that aren’t really in the same wheelhouse they’ve constructed over the last decade or so.

With that in mind, the campaign for the film is already underway as we inch closer to release. I think Olsen has a great shot at awards glory this year, if she can fight off fellow newcomer Felicity Jones (“Like Crazy”) along the way. But I will have my fingers crossed for Durkin’s tight work on the page. His direction would face a bit of an uphill battle, even if it is deserving. And equally impressive feats below the line, not least of them being Zachary Stuart-Pontier’s editing and Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography, deserve real attention, too. It’s the best debut I’ve seen this year, so maybe a few of those prizes can be in store as we push through the circuit.

“Martha Marcy May Marlene” opens in limited release October 21 and is set to play Toronto fest next month.

→ 10 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily · Reviews

10 responses so far

  • 1 8-30-2011 at 9:06 am

    will said...

    So excited for this one. There’s so much great stuff coming down the pike this year.

  • 2 8-30-2011 at 9:12 am

    Brock Landers said...

    Seeing it at TIFF. Can’t wait.

  • 3 8-30-2011 at 2:28 pm

    Leocdc said...

    Can’t wait to see this one.
    This with Take Shelter looks crazily amazing movies.

  • 4 8-30-2011 at 4:12 pm

    Mat said...

    I’d probably count Sarah Paulson as the best supporting performance I’ve seen so far this year. That mix of loving concern and anger/frustration is impressive. The cast is pretty great across the board, I think. And you’ve nailed Olsen’s performance. She’s the real find, probably, but I do hope Paulson doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

    It’s great to see a movie with an elegant screenplay that expresses its shifts with just as much finesse. The way they shift timeframes and use repetitions is way more than I expected going in. Nice review.

  • 5 8-30-2011 at 4:32 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Extremely excited for this, and I do think if it came down to blows, she would edge out Jones. The Academy would probably be more motivated to nominate her at #1, whereas I can’t see Jones getting many #1s. She looks terrific, but the film doesn’t give me the kind of vibe that rallies passion votes. And I definitely think the MMMM screenplay will get in over LC’s. But again, that category is scarce enough that both might make it.

  • 6 8-30-2011 at 4:48 pm

    The Other James D. said...

    Oh, and aside from Olsen outdoing both her sisters’ entire résumé, I’m so glad to hear that Brady Corbet does terrific work here. He was outstanding in Mysterious Skin, and here’s hoping he gets a Spirit Award nom. (Because, after all, the majors are fairly unlikely.) Hooray for Paulson and Hawkes as well. Hawkes I could almost see garnering a consecutive nod, if there’s enough momentum for the film within the actors’ branch. I

  • 7 8-30-2011 at 5:06 pm

    Brett Buckalew said...

    The Other James D.,

    Corbet is hilarious in a small but memorable role in “Melancholia.” Definitely mark that on your calendar!

  • 8 8-30-2011 at 6:01 pm

    Steve G said...

    Yes, I think MMMM has a great shot at a Screenplay nomination too. Olsen would be a deserving nominee. One of my fave films of the year so far.

  • 9 8-30-2011 at 8:31 pm

    j said...

    I thought Corbet was outshined by JGL’s glorious performance in Mysterious Skin, but that may be more of a testament to JGL being the awesome.

  • 10 8-31-2011 at 3:02 pm

    Jim T said...

    Yeah, I totally want to see this one and I won’t be surprised if ti ends up being one of my favorites of the year.