I’ve taken a break from the self-imposed chore of watching Oscar nominations to see something more worthwhile.
Elizabeth Olsen (who is, yes, the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) plays Martha who turns up one day on her sister Lucy’s doorstep. Lucy is thrilled to see her little sister back as she hasn’t been able to contact her for the past two years. Martha’s story is that she’s been living with a guy and now they’ve split up. Little by little, we, the audience find out that Martha is being pretty economical with the truth and that in fact, she’s been shacked up in a commune with a bunch of pretty weird folk.
During her time in the commune, Martha has adopted some unconventional habits, and much of the film hinges on Martha’s increasingly peculiar behaviour and the fact that she won’t tell her sister what has happened to her. This is where the plot weakens. I think I was supposed to understand that she can’t talk to her sister because she was so traumatised by events that she can’t even remember herself. But it doesn’t quite work. Martha’s already an adult by the time the film starts, and I find it difficult to believe that just two years is enough to make someone forget everything normal that went before. Although to be fair, I’ve never lived in a commune and had someone actively try to brainwash me (or at least I don’t remember either).
Anyway, putting the plot flaws aside, as long as you don’t need your films to have a happy ending, MMMM is very watchable. The film’s success is mostly due to a very competent cast and well-developed characters. John Hawkes stands out as cult leader and brainwasher-in-chief. You might remember him from an equally creepy performance in Winter’s Bone last year. Olsen carries her role like a seasoned professional. She reminded me of a young Winona Ryder in the 1999 film Girl, Interrupted (which, btw I highly recommended).
One last comment on endings. Just to let you know that when the screen goes black, that is the end. Honest. The projector isn’t broken, it’s not an editing error. That’s it, there is no more. Don’t, like me, spend time trying to find the last fifteen minutes. They don’t exist.
Here’s the link to Martha Marcy May Marlene on IMDB.