Martha Marcy May Marlene, Directed by Sean Durkin
LOOK past the awful title of this low-budget psychological drama and you’ll be rewarded with a deeply unsettling yet riveting study of vulnerability and emotional trauma.
Elizabeth Olsen stars as Martha, a young woman with a difficult upbringing who becomes part of a mysterious and intimidating cult. After two years she flees and the film is told in flashbacks as she struggles to return to reality at the luxury home of her well-meaning but dismissive sister Lucy, played by Sarah Paulson.
The film’s strengths lie in its ambiguity. The details of the cult are deliberately left vague and we are left guessing how Martha becomes involved. It is led by Patrick, played by John Hawkes in a creepy, unhinged performance. They live under one roof, sharing jobs, clothes and beds. They are, in a twisted way, a family.
The film is a study of the emotional impact the cult has on Martha and should be a star-making turn for Olsen, who delivers a distant and paranoid performance. Martha’s erratic behaviour and her struggle to reconcile with her sister often make for uncomfortable viewing, but the convincing relationship between her and Lucy will leave you captivated.
Martha’s flashbacks become increasingly sinister and the sparse but intelligent use of sound and imagery gives a sense of impending fear and ever-growing danger.
Her bleak situation makes it hard to call this an enjoyable film, but this impressive psychological drama will leave you more unsettled than many a horror film.
The Descendants, Directed by Alexander Payne
DON’T be fooled by the trailer because for all its many strengths, the one thing the Descendants is not is a comedy.
Instead it’s a portrait of one man struggling to rebuild a family left shattered by his wife’s coma.
As Matt, a well-off real estate lawyer from Hawaii, George Clooney is the heart of the film and events are seen through his eyes. His Oscar nomination is well deserved and it would be no surprise if he won, as this is a role which requires him to display his full range of talents. Revelations about his wife’s affair drive the plot forward, but also provide an unlikely means of bonding with his eldest daughter, who starts the film as a spoiled teenager and ends it as an unlikely source of warmth and wisdom.
Newcomer Amara Miller plays ten-year-old Scottie, Matt’s younger, and equally troublesome daughter, and is utterly believable as a child struggling to adapt to the loss of her beloved mother.
The Descendants is the first must see film of the year and makes a star not only of Clooney, but the rest of its young cast, who will surely go onto bigger and better things. It will take a brave man to bet against Clooney winning Best Oscar at the end of the month.
Young Adult, Directed by Jason Reitman
YOUNG ADULT sees Director Jason Reitman and Screenwriter Diablo Cody, the duo behind teen pregnancy comedy-drama Juno, join forces once again.
Charlize Theron plays Mavis Gary - a diet coke-guzzling, depressive divorcee with alcoholic tendencies. Mavis, lives alone in Minneapolis and is the writer of a soon-to-be-axed teen fiction series.
After receiving an email from her childhood sweetheart, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), announcing the arrival of his new baby, she decides to head back to her home town. Her aim? To win back Buddy.
Instead, Mavis forms an unusual bond with former classmate, Matt (Patton Oswalt), whose attempts to dissuade her crazy behaviour result in epic failure. He becomes both her confidant and her biggest critic.
What starts out as an amusing road-trip tale of nostalgia, quickly turns into a massive bore as Mavis embarrasses herself again, and again, and again.
It’s anti-hero, anti-romantic comedy with a nothing ending is a welcome change from the norm. But the point is while the audience do not have to like Mavis, they do need to be able to relate to her on some level.
The only redeeming feature in this debacle is a surprisingly semi-poignant scene with Mavis and Matt’s sister, Sandra (Collette Wolfe). The two of them bash-out some wisdom on happiness and home, just before the film reaches its unremarkable end.