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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene



Every Sunday is Movie Night at the Playboy Mansion. Not certain if at any point Hugh Hefner screened Martha Marcy May Marlene for himself, his buddies and his Playmate girlfriends, but if he did, it must have gotten awfully uncomfortable in their private screening room. Martha Marcy May Marlene could be a metaphor for The Girls Next Door - with a sinewy, greasy redneck John Hawkes lording over a cult-like harem of young impressionable girls in a backwoods farmhouse stand-in for the Playboy Mansion. Why, there's even a grotto of sorts - a swimming hole in the woods the girls go skinny dipping in. Hawkes serenades his girls with his gee-tar, as if he's Hef and the Playmates attending the Playboy Jazz Festival. All that was missing was for redneck James Caan to drop by.

As for sexual favors, Hawkes does it worse than even the grossest stories that leaked out of Hef's bedroom by his disgruntled ex-girlfriends: Hawkes renames his girls immediately upon meeting them (Sarah becomes Sally, Martha becomes Marcy May), forces them to drink a disgusting looking smoothie laced with a roofie, then violates them from behind when they're half-passed out delirious on the floor. He calls this "the Cleansing". This compare and contrast is admittedly unfair to Hef, who never lead his Playmates on A Clockwork Orange-style home invasions where a man is literally stabbed in the back and left for dead. 

This incident is what causes Elizabeth Olsen to finally snap. Olsen was a willing recruit; an impressionable orphan looking for a makeshift family and some form of belief system in life ("You are a teacher and a leader", Hawkes tells Olsen, "his favorite"), but Olsen flees the cult after two years of brainwashings, emotional, and physical abuse. Olsen finds refuge with her estranged older sister Sarah Paulson, who lives an affluent yuppie life with her stressed out British husband Hugh Dancy. Reticent and alienated at first, Olsen continues to be haunted by her memories of Hawkes and the cult, causing her to lash out with bizarre behavior and unsettling outbursts as she grows increasingly paranoid from the deep seeded emotional trauma she tries to suppress. 

Wide-eyed and bountifully proportioned both physically and in acting talent compared to her more famous billionaire older siblings Mary-Kate and Ashley, Elizabeth Olsen is terrific as her character Martha, who goes by the names "Marcy May" and "Marlene Lewis" at various points in her time with Hawkes' cult. Between Martha Marcy May Marlene and Winter's Bone, John Hawkes seems to be on every casting agent's speed dial when a part calls for a creepy, podunk, squirrel-eater. Unlike Winter's Bone, which had a Hero's Journey  by Jennifer Lawrence to find her missing father at its cinematic through-line, Martha Marcy May Marlene is glacially paced and told half in flashback. Laying around her sister's luxury lake house traumatized is Olsen's primary activity. A lot happened to Martha Marcy May Marlene, but as a movie, not a lot happens in Martha Marcy May Marlene.