Sunday, November 20, 2011

MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (2011)

Written & Directed by Sean Durkin


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  October 25, 2011  7:30PM


The three names in the title of "Martha Marcy May Marlene" refers to only one person but each name represents three separate and turbulent times in this young woman's life.

Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha, which is her actual birth name, who has just called her older sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulsen) that she's not made any contact with in two years. Martha has been in upstate New York where she had been living in a cult-like commune and just recently felt she needed to sneak off and escape.

Lucy decides to take Martha to her summer home in Connecticut, not too far from the commune, that she shares with her new husband, Ted (Hugh Darcy). Although he's not thrilled with the idea of having Martha with them, since he wanted to spend some quiet time with his wife, but he's more than willing to try and help her out.

Listless and unmotivated, Martha doesn't want to do much more than sleep but Lucy insists that she get out and enjoy the sunshine. As Lucy spends more time with her sister, she begins to realize, which we see through a series of flashbacks, that the years in that place has taken it's toll on Martha. She is shocked and disturbed by how much Martha has changed as she no longer aware of proper etiquette in middle-class society such as wearing a bathing suit while swimming in public or crawling in to bed with her while she's in the middle of making love with her husband. Although Martha had some issues long before she joined the commune but the unconventional environment didn't help her in any way.

We can understand the initial attraction for Martha to this group as the leader, Patrick (John Hawkes) is soft-spoken, charming and seductive. He renames Martha, "Marcy May" since he feels that it suits her better and she happily accepts, in some way flattered, that he has taken the time out to notice her. Life on the compound begins calm and idyllic as it provides Martha with a family structure in which she seems to have been searching for but soon the situation slowly grows darker. It begins small with the women are not allowed to eat until after the men have finished to larger problems such as the dangerous methods used for collecting money to live on to the depraved and disturbing way Patrick takes advantage of the new female followers.

Martha becomes increasingly confused, having difficulty being able to distinguish between reality and her troubled past as well as fear that Patrick and his cult are watching her and waiting for an opportunity to take her back.

"Martha" won writer/director Sean Durkin the Best Director prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival and this feature film debut expands upon his short, "Mary Last Seen" which was also about a young girl trying to cope with life after leaving a cult and that won Best Short Film at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. This quiet, little film is beautifully shot with cinematographer, Jody Lee Lipes creating a delicate, dream-like quality with Mr. Durkin getting fine performances from his terrific cast but I had difficulty becoming fully engaged in the film. I realize that the main focus was on Martha's struggle to find her way after her involvement with this group but I was distracted by the many questions that were left unanswered that made it hard to understand or connect with the victim such as what was the actual attraction or motivation for any of these people to devote their lives to Patrick so completely, most especially since the film made it a point to avoid any religious reason and what exactly happened to fracture the relationship between the sisters and push Martha in to the clutches of this group?

Ms Olsen, the younger sister of the twin child actors (TV's "Full House") turned powerful, media moguls, Mary-Kate and Ashley, is quite impressive in her first leading film role and actually the main reason to see this film. At only twenty-two, she is gifted with a natural ease in front of the camera and a compelling presence as she perfectly captures her character's uneasy attempt of trying to rediscover who she is. "Martha" is a superb showcase of Ms Olsen's potential as a major screen actor.

"Martha Marcy May Marlene" is an admirable first film that delivers well-executed film making and solid performances and while it authentically shows us the harrowing ordeal of this young woman's but it's just too vague in the details of what exactly contributed to her complete wiliness to get involved with this cult. While the film is not a complete success but director, Sean Durkin along with his very talented leading lady, Elizabeth Olsen show true promise.