Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Written and Directed by Sean Durkin
Starring Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy and John Hawkes

Martha: Do you ever have that feeling where you can’t tell if something’s a memory or if it’s something you dreamed?

Instantly uncomfortable, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, is unlike any experience I’ve had at the movies. It is at times both eerily quiet and dishearteningly noisy; it is painfully present but yet also lost in a haze of what is real and what is imagined. It inspires great sympathy and even greater anxiety. Its tension is palpable and its style is distinct and effective. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is a truly accomplished piece of filmmaking from writer-director, Sean Durkin, a first time feature filmmaker. With that in mind, it is just plain shocking across the board.

As skillful as Durkin proves to be, he has help, led by a star-making turn from lead actress, Elizabeth Olsen. Olsen, who incidentally is the younger sibling of Mary-Kate and Ashley (and I’m sure never tires of seeing that repeated in print), is incredible as Martha. We meet her when she is Marcy May, her name changed when she entered a seemingly loving commune. Her new family turns out to be an abusive cult, led by recent Oscar nominee, John Hawkes (WINTER’S BONE), but the warmth they show her is still enough for her to leave behind the family she had always known. Olsen carries so much depth in her composure, her face and general demeanor are cold and lifeless. Still, there is fight inside her that breaks through the surface from time to time, hoping to make its presence more permanent. Olsen makes Martha’s struggle so grave, you feel as though she could slip away from everything at any moment, never to return. She is simply captivating and I could barely breathe as I watched her push back from hell.

Durkin takes this towering performance and drops it in the middle of a world of bewilderment, bouncing back and forth in time and place between Marcy May’s time with her adopted “family” and Martha’s attempt to reintegrate into society with her sister (Sarah Paulson) and her husband (Hugh Dancy). At times, many of them in fact, she cannot distinguish between the two experiences and subsequently, neither can we. Her transition is never simple and both situations place rules on her that she struggles against, leaving it open for debate as to which scenario provides her with real love, if any. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE is as disturbing as you would expect from what I’ve described but it is also just as revelatory.


jennifer said...

what does the name marlene stands for??

Black Sheep said...

Marlene is the name her character gives when people call her at home. Have you seen the film yet?

Candice Frederick said...

wow, what a powerful review.

Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to this film and this confirmed my feelings. Sound like a difficult, but rewarding film. Thanks for the well written analysis. I’ll be reviewing this soon!

Diana said...

I love this movie, I saw it recently and reviewed it! How did you get to interview Elizabeth Olsen and Michael Shannon?Great job!

Black Sheep said...

Thanks fastfilmreviews and Aziza! I'm going to check it out for a second viewing today.

I got the interviews through my coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival. I was supposed to interview both Olsen and the director for this film but had a conflict with interviews for The Artist. I ended up speaking to Olsen over the phone a couple of weeks ago. She was lovely, very humble.

I met Shannon during the festival. Good guy, nice early morning chat. Was supposed to meet with Jessica Chastain right beforehand but that one got canned. I might have cried. ;)