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January 1, 2014

Nate & Margaret

by Franz Patrick


Nate & Margaret (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

One cannot be blamed for mistaking Margaret (Natalie West) and Nate (Tyler Ross) for mother and son as they browse through various items in a thrift shop. After all, they seem so close. When Margaret asks Nate if she should buy a certain item, Nate responds using collective pronouns as if they lived under the same roof. Perhaps it is of little difference. Nate and Margaret live in the same building, their front doors within a few feet of each other’s. Nate, nineteen, is a film student and Margaret, fifty-two, is an aspiring stand-up comic. When Nate meets a guy named James (Conor McCahill) at a friend’s party, the seemingly immutable bond between Nate and Margaret is stretched to a breaking point.

Written by Nathan Adloff and Justin D.M. Palmer, “Nate & Margaret” establishes a dramatic vortex by first attempting to convince us why the title characters can be unhealthy for one another. Margaret is very needy. It is best shown when Nate is working on his film project but Margaret feels she just has to tell him a joke that has just popped into her mind. When Nate tells her that maybe they ought to wait until later, the camera lingers on Margaret’s face, a technique utilized several times but surprising in that it did not suffer from diminishing returns, to force us to feel the hurt of what she considers to be a form of rejection. Interestingly, the close-up is not necessarily meant to make us feel sorry for her. On the contrary, I felt as though the material wants us to question the amount of hold Margaret has—or thought she has—over her friend. Just as when we begin to feel uncomfortable, the picture wallops us with reasons why they share a special friendship.

Nate having a boyfriend for the first time, the relationship excites and challenges him. As expected, the newness of being with someone romantically takes precedence over petting the same old habits he shares with Margaret. However, it is also the point when the story reaches a dramatic focus. Instead of dropping in to listen to Margaret’s public performances, most of her material inspired by the abuse she endured when she was a little girl, we get a chance to learn more about Nate, how he originated and grew up in a small town where hiding his sexuality was the “normal” thing to do.

James, not exactly the most thoughtful or introspective guy, translates Nate’s negative attitude toward public displays of affection as being ashamed of being who he is. We question if Nate deserves someone better. Sure, the couple is able to explore one another physically, a quality that is absent in Nate’s relationship with Margaret, but we suspect that the emotional connection might not be there. Nate, a mild-mannered but smart guy, begins to wonder, too.

But the film is not about judging James. It is about what feels right for our protagonists and what they need to grow as separate people. By allowing Nate and Margaret to spend some time apart, we develop an appreciation of how much they value each other despite their vast age difference.

All of us will or should be able to relate to their story because a lot of the emotions it conveys are reflective of how we tend to think or feel when we have a big fight with someone we care about. “Nate & Margaret,” directed by Nathan Adloff, is comfortable in capturing and expanding emotions that often go undetected. Sometimes facing them is not always so easy.

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