Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson
Directed by: Sean Durkin
Running time: 102 Minutes
Quick summary (from IMDB): Haunted by painful memories and increasing paranoia, a damaged woman struggles to re-assimilate with her family after fleeing an abusive cult.
Martha Marcy May Marlene is another movie that was added to my list to see back before the awards season. There was some buzz around the movie, especially in Elizabeth Olsen’s performance. It wasn’t enough to garner any Oscar nominations, but the Olsen, and the film itself, did gather some smaller, regional nominations and awards.
Olsen, younger sister of the much more well-known Olsen Twins of Full House fame, delivers a powerful and dark performance. It couldn’t have been easy to take on such a dramatic and damaged character, and to pull it off as well as Olsen did was impressive, but what makes it even more impressive is that it’s only her third film role (according to IMDB). She nails the paranoia and the emotionally tortured young woman required of the role. There were only one or two times when I was watching that I thought: “She looks like her sisters”, the rest of the movie I thought she looked like a younger Scarlett Johannson, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
While the rest of the cast was good, so much less was asked of them that they pale in comparison to Olsen. John Hawkes is the only one who comes close to Olsen in terms of strength of performance. He’s at times creepy and scary, which is what you’d expect from a cult leader. For such a frail looking man, Hawkes is able to deliver some powerful acting, as he did in Winter’s Bone as well.
As for the movie, it was well written and well made. It’s not quite as thrilling as I was hoping for, leaning more heavily on the drama and the paranoia of the title character. I guess it would be more of a psychological thriller. That’s not a knock on the film in any way, as it was really good. I’m always hard pressed to say that I like a movie like this, as there’s not really anything to like about a movie about a woman escaping from an abusive cult.
I did like that it ended ambiguously. Most of the time I like to get some closure from my movies, but every so often, a little uncertainty makes things interesting. And if it makes you think about the movie hours after it’s over, as I found myself doing with this movie, then it was successful in its attempts.
My only real complaint is about the title. I get it, and now that I’ve seen the movie, it makes perfect sense, but it doesn’t sound like the name of a movie I’d ever want to see. That being said, I can’t think of anything better, so I guess it’ll have to do.
3.5 out of 5 stars
Better than Avatar