Nate & Margaret
is my favorite type of film, a film about people who seemingly exist on the fringes of life yet who are simply mesmerizing exactly the way they are. Nate (Tyler Ross) is a 19-year-old film school introvert who is gay yet has never had a boyfriend. Margaret (Natalie West) is his best friend - a 52-year-old aspiring stand-up comic who is also Nate's best friend.
It sounds like this friendship will be played for laughs, doesn't it? It sounds like, perhaps, we're getting ready for a contemporary updating of Harold & Maude.
Wrong and wrong.
At its very heart, Nate & Margaret
is a film about friendship involving two people who, in most people's eyes, probably ought not to be friends. Yet, they are.
The situation becomes complicated when Nate and Margaret are attending a party hosted by Nate's film school friend, Darla (Gaby Hoffmann), who has at least a bit of intention to set the likable Nate up with the seemingly likable James (Conor McCahill). The two end up in a rather surprising full-on kiss, and by the next day Nate is smitten by James in the way that we're always smitten by our first love. James, on the other hand, seems more turned on by the fact that he will be Nate's first time.
I kept waiting for that moment when Nate & Margaret
would either drown under the weight of its quirks or simply be buried by its cliches. Somehow, neither moment ever arrived. A good amount of the credit for this goes to director Nathan Adloff, who also co-wrote the script with Justin D.M. Palmer. Rather than create unnecessary histrionics or hyped up drama, Adloff focuses the film squarely upon the shoulder of these delightful characters and the payoff is simply immense.
Tyler Ross gives a low-key yet quietly amazing performance as Nate, a young man who has a sort of "guy next door" charm that draws you in and keeps you captivated. It's not perfectly clear just how good Ross is here until he's immersed himself in his relationship with James, a point at which his innocence and sweetness fits the mood perfectly. If you remember your first love, I'd almost guarantee that the feelings you felt are much like what unfolds in the personhood of Tyler Ross's Nate. Ross also plays his friendship with Margaret quite beautifully, never cheapening it with tongue-in-cheek laughs but embodying it with both quirky charm and earnest sincerity.
As Margaret, Natalie West is a pretty woman who doesn't always carry herself in an exactly pretty way. Margaret can be outspoken and brash, but West plays her with such conviction and affection that her friendship with Nate feels genuine and her journey towards becoming a stand-up comic is actually quite inspiring. You can't help but root for her, and you can't help but admire her strength as she deals with this newfound relationship between Nate and James.
In supporting roles, both Conor McCahill and Gaby Hoffmann shine quite brightly with McCahill having the challenging task of playing a guy who seems likable but may not be in the end. Rather than turn him into some sort of bad guy, though, McCahill embodies a realistic portrayal of a young man for whom the idea of young love is more a curiosity than an experience to be cherished.
Brian Levin's camera work fits the film's rather laid back tone quite nicely, focusing largely on our two lead characters and their interactions with each other and the world around them. The lensing doesn't so much isolate Nate and Margaret as it allows us into their world as observers.
After a brief theatrical run, Nate & Margaret
will be released on home video by Breaking Glass Pictures on August 28th. Breaking Glass has put together a rather stellar DVD package that will include a short film, audition tapes, a featurette, audio commentaries and a delightful video commentary that includes Adloff, West and Ross.
To pre-order your copy, visit the Breaking Glass Pictures website
for Nate & Margaret.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic