Marmalade brings a playful twist to the familiar “lovers on the lam” crime genre, blending thriller elements with offbeat comedy. First-time director Keir O’Donnell kicks off his behind-the-camera career in style, keeping things brisk and stylized. He’s aided by an endearing lead performance from Stranger Things’ Joe Keery as a hapless Southern boy who gets in over his head with the titular Marmalade, an elusive manic pixie dream girl brought to life by Camila Morrone.
After young postman Baron ends up behind bars for a bank robbery meant to pay for his ailing mother’s medication, he recounts to his savvy cellmate Otis (Aldis Hodge) how he fell under the spirited drifter Marmalade’s spell. She sweeps into his small town and turns his life upside down with her big ideas and vague motives. As Baron tells it, they were star-crossed Bonnie and Clyde figures determined to fund their carefree romance through brazen crime. But in time, both Otis and the audience start questioning Baron’s rose-colored perspective.
O’Donnell’s confident debut weaves this slightly over-familiar lovers-on-the-run setup into an off-kilter charmer, thanks largely to Keery’s earnest performance as the oblivious patsy. Baron may see his story as a feel-good romance, but Marmalade clearly has a few tricks up her striped sleeve.
Love, Lies, and Long Cons
At its core, Marmalade uses the familiar framework of a “Bonnie and Clyde” story – two lovers pushed to desperate crimes in order to be together and stay afloat financially. We initially meet the guileless Baron behind bars, separated from the captivating drifter Marmalade as he recounts their whirlwind romance-on-the-run to his seasoned cellmate Otis.
As Baron tells it through flashbacks, he was a modest small-town postman barely scraping by to afford medications for his sick mother. Enter the magnetic Marmalade with her bold ideas, hoping to fund their freedom through brazen bank robberies. Baron is blinded by love and swept up in her big talk of the life they’ll lead together.
This basic storyline evokes timeless themes of young rebels shaking off the shackles of mainstream society to live fast and dangerously together. It’s a tantalizing fantasy of throwing caution to the wind for adventure and passion.
However, as their tale unfolds, O’Donnell steadily subverts expectations. Plot twists reveal Baron as an unreliable narrator, seeing the situation through rose-colored glasses. Marmalade clearly has her own agenda, using her feminine wiles to manipulate the smitten Baron into criminal schemes beneficial primarily to her.
What may have seemed at first like a sympathetic story of two star-crossed paramours instead becomes more of a reflection on how economic desperation and misplaced trust can lead good people to make regrettable choices. The core noir themes of betrayal, forbidden dangerous love, and femmes fatales who use their sexuality as a weapon are all are all eventually woven in as well.
By the end, the viewer is left to reevaluate their first impressions and understand the gray areas behind this doomed crime couple. Love stories often have two sides, and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.
A Visual Sugar Rush
As a first-time director, Keir O’Donnell makes his mark by infusing Marmalade with an energetic visual style to match its quirky crime caper tone. He fully embraces the frothy thriller genre here, adopting a bright, candy-colored palette that contrasts nicely with the seedy subject matter.
O’Donnell clearly has an aptitude for propulsive pacing, using brisk editing and snappy montages to introduce characters and set the heist plot in motion. When Baron recounts his whirlwind history with Marmalade, the timeline jumps back and forth, aided by slick transitions. This kinetic style suits both the spirited Marmalade character and the film’s subtle subversions of the Bonnie and Clyde trope over time.
Visually, sun-drenched yellows and pinks dominate to accentuate the young lovers’ rosy early days, almost creating the aesthetic of a quirky romance. But as Marmalade’s true colors emerge, the visual motifs turn darker and more mysterious. Shadowy blues take over and the editing grows more frantic and tense when things go wrong.
It’s an impressive directorial debut from O’Donnell, confidently establishing a distinct visual language from the start. The dynamic pacing and styling help gloss over occasional weaknesses in the script to highlight the best comedic and thriller elements. As Baron’s cookie-cutter romance curdles into something more chilling, the visuals externally echo his internal awakening.
For most of its brisk runtime, Marmalade is visual candy – almost intoxicatingly sweet and colorful. But O’Donnell shows he can also harness the style and atmospherics one would expect from a classic noir filled with betrayal. It makes for quite a rush.
Standout Performances Bring Quirky Leads to Life
A key ingredient in Marmalade’s appeal is the stellar cast, led by a against-type turn from Stranger Things fan favorite Joe Keery. Ditching his usual coiffed hair, he disappears endearingly into the role of naive patsy Baron, a guileless Southern mama’s boy caught up in Marmalade’s schemes. Keery juggles humor and pathos well here, selling Baron’s oblivious perspective so thoroughly that his eventual disillusionment carries real emotional weight.
As Marmalade herself, Camila Morrone has the challenge of bringing complexity to a character who initially seems like a predictable manic pixie dream girl/femme fatale hybrid. But Morrone subtly hints at ulterior motives even in Marmalade’s most spirited moments, keeping the audience guessing. She plays well off of Keery’s innocence in the early courtship scenes, and strikes sparks later on when the manipulative side of seductress Marmalade emerges.
In many ways, though, Aldis Hodge steals the show as Baron’s seen-it-all cellmate Otis who listens skeptically to the unfolding flashback. He gets several of the funniest lines, reacting with hilarious disbelief at Baron’s poor decisions. But Hodge also conveys Otis’s intelligence and hint of a moral compass just beneath the surface. His dynamic presence challenges Baron’s worldview and accelerates the protagonist’s change of heart.
The supporting cast fills out the quirky world well too. Relative newcomer Susan Brava generates real sympathy with limited screen time as Baron’s ailing, fretful mother. And Aussie comedian Dan Wyllie also scores laughs as an inept small-town sheriff vexed by Marmalade’s defiant antics.
Across the board, the performers here breathe vivid life into Marmalade’s offbeat personalities. Their layered work is essential in making even the hokey moments engaging.
A Breezy Romp with Witty Banter
Considering Marmalade marks Keir O’Donnell’s first produced screenplay, the end result is quite polished. The script maintains a breezy, propulsive pace to match the stylish direction and offbeat crime storyline. Things move swiftly from meet-cute to romance to double-crosses, aided by the framing device of Baron recounting events to his savvy cellmate.
The dialogue also pops with quirky humor and flashes of insight amidst the peppy rhythms. Baron and Marmalade’s early flirtations charm through vibrant exchanges, while Otis regularly chimes in with cynical comic relief. Certain plot holes emerge around how nonchalant the small town seems about brazen heists, but the film recovers quickly enough to minimize distraction.
O’Donnell crafts distinct voices for his leads – Baron’s folksy ramblings, Marmalade’s firecracker slang, Otis’s seen-it-all commentary. Their contrasting reactions to each new twist further the emotional arcs. And for a story centered on deception, the most honest and affecting moments tend to come from poignant late night heart-to-hearts in jail cells or getaway cars.
While drawing clear inspiration from various crime classics, O’Donnell’s script retains its own offbeat identity. Clever structural choices like the frame narrative and unreliable narrator heighten the surprises. And vivid exchanges between this watchable cast keep Marmalade clipping along through even its few derivative spots. It captures the escapist spirit of a great airport paperback – easy to get swept up in with minimal baggage.
Slick Editing Propels the Offbeat Energy
Marmalade’s polished editing and cinematography further bolster its playful spirit, matching the peppy energy established by O’Donnell’s direction and performances. Editors Billy Fox and Darrin Navarro seamlessly integrate flashbacks andfantasy sequences through quick cuts, montages, freeze frames and other stylistic flourishes.
When Baron’s voiceover narration describes his meet-cute with the captivating drifter Marmalade, the scene unfolds through a romanticized, swooping camera capturing their flirtatious chemistry. But later on, the editing grows more frantic and experimental as the “Bonnie and Clyde” fantasy gives way to tense betrayals. Clever transitions weave past and present events together as Baron’s memory proves unreliable.
The cinematography by Marty Pepper establishes Marmalade’s candy-hued visual aesthetic early on. Bright pinks and yellows soak scenes of the young lovers, heightening the dream-like quality of Baron’s infatuation and longing for freedom. But shadowy blues take over down the line in noir homage once fate turns against them. Fun miniatures and CGI add quirky embellishments to establish settings within the small Southern town as well.
From editing to framing to color grading, Marmalade’s technical craftsmanship shines, complementing the offbeat caper storyline. The film delivers visual razzle dazzle without distraction from the central relationships. For a debut, O’Donnell clearly knows how to assemble a talented behind-the-scenes team with a bold unified vision.
A Sweetly Subversive Treat
At first taste, Marmalade may seem like just another helping of the well-worn “lovers on the run” crime caper. But director Keir O’Donnell keeps the flavors fresh and vibrant in his spirited debut, subverting expectations over time much like how his plucky heroine stealthily pursues her own hidden agenda. Bolstered by winning lead performances and slick visual style, this indie thriller romance leaves a sweet impression that lingers.
The strengths here start with the casting – Joe Keery sheds his usual persona for affable pathos as the hapless Baron, while Camila Morrone brings beguiling layers to temptress Marmalade. Aldis Hodge nearly steals the film as the skeptical voice of reason, with solid support from a funny Dan Wyllie as an exasperated sheriff. And O’Donnell directs with confidence and comedic timing, aided by dynamic editing and sunny, candy-hued cinematography that recalls the aesthetic of muted Wes Anderson or Edgar Wright gems.
Admittedly the breezy script shortcuts character development and logical gaps in service of propulsive fun. The plot beats feel familiar at times as well for this niche genre. But the unreliable narrator device and late film pivots keep one guessing despite the cliches. What results is 90 minutes of fizzy, neon-tinted entertainment – a cinematic shot of sweet adrenaline accentuated by winning lead chemistry.
By the climax, Marmalade transcends its familiar trappings to deliver some genuine emotional catharsis. Genre fans will appreciate the sly twists, while romance lovers will swoon for the leads’ rapport even once the fantasy fades. For moviegoers seeking a pleasant surprise that rewards patience, this quirky indie splicing comedy, crime and noir makes for ideal Valentine’s Day counter-programming or a future cult classic discovery. Marmalade may start out feeling overly sweet or derivative, but its secret ingredients will leave you savoring the complex flavors.
Marmalade represents an impressive first foray into feature films for director Keir O’Donnell. What initially seems to be a straightforward crime romance eventually reveals clever layers thanks to standout lead performances and confident stylish direction. For fans of offbeat indies that subvert genres with glee, this frothy thriller with comedic bite delivers a satisfyingly surprising twist likely to stick with you.
- Winning lead performance by Joe Keery
- Camila Morrone brings complexity to femme fatale role
- Confident and stylish directorial debut for Keir O'Donnell
- Dynamic pacing and visual flair
- Clever twists and subversions of crime genre tropes
- Strong chemistry between leads
- Familiar "lovers on the run" storyline early on
- Some logical gaps in the script
- Supporting character development limited
- Plot relies heavily on flashbacks