Writer and Director: Keir O’Donnell
Playing with prison comedy tropes, Keir O’Donnell’s dark comedy Marmalade enjoys toying with perspective and audience expectations. A caper that involves prison confessions, the FBI, a criminal escapade and a too-good-to-be-true cool girl named Marmalade, O’Donnell’s movie maintains its slightly quirky tone with a swaggering confidence, even if the eventual resolution feels a tad underpowered and overly generous to its characters.
Baron finds himself in prison for a bank job he barely committed and begins to tell his story to new cellmate Otis (Aldis Hodge). Spooling back to his life living with his terminally ill mother in a dead-end town, loner Baron’s life is transformed when the beautiful and carefree Marmalade drives into town. Soon a vital part of his life, the pair plan a Bonnie and Clyde escapade, but just where is Marmalade now?
O’Donnell’s 95-minute film has the feel of a quirky coming-of-age movie meets crime jaunt in which two lonely people are drawn together and led astray by the stronger personality. For the first hour or so, the film offers a humorous style of storytelling but does little to advance the genre, reliant on cliches and well-worn tropes, especially in the creation of Marmalade herself, a male-fantasy cool girl, sexually liberated, effortlessly alternative and throwing herself at the dorkiest man in town.
But if you stick with Marmalade, some of the reasoning for that becomes clear in the final third of the story, as a cat and mouse encounter ensues. Here, the film is also able to travel, building up some tension in the race to find Marmalade. It is frustrating then that O’Donnell falls into familiar patterns once again with the eventual conclusion, celebrating the master criminal and even lionising their actions with little attempt to unpick or even explain a deranged figure emerging from this tale who is merely rewarded at the end instead.
As Baron, Joe Keery is suitably shy and overwhelmed both by the full force of a high security prison and the transformative appearance of Marmalade into his daily life, passively allowing her to push him to new extremes. Camila Morrone’s Marmalade becomes more explicable later in the movie but for most of her screentime remains a fairly generic representation of a woman with ‘agency’ – i.e. has casual sex – while a throwaway reference to abuse is too lightly treated to ‘explain’ her behaviour.
Marmalade is a little pleased with itself but the unfolding of the story is enjoyable and silly enough to keep you watching, while O’Donnell’s handling of the various revelations is slightly better than what he eventually does with them.
Signature Entertainment presentsMarmaladeon Digital Platforms 12th February.