Nate & Margaret
Margaret (Natalie West, "Roseanne") is a 52-year-old waitress in a Chicago coffeehouse, who’s hoping to make a late break into stand-up with jokes about her manifold childhood traumas, abusive relationships and spinsterhood. Her only close friend is Nate (Tyler Ross), a 19-year-old film student from a small town, who lives in her building. They go thrifting and eat their meals together, each encouraging the other to keep at their crafts when the chips are down. Nate’s art school friends don’t see why he’d want to hang around a frumpy broad who looks old enough to be his grandma, but nothing can tear Nate away from Margaret until a lech named James (Conor McCahill) accosts him at a party. Before he knows it, little lamb Nate finds himself dallying with a leering wolf. What will this do to his relationship with the stridently anti-relationship Margaret? When worst comes to worst, how will this unlikely duo get by without each other?
Director Nathan Adloff’s feature debut, "Nate & Margaret," has a lot going for it. Natalie West kills as Margaret, combining the hard-bitten earthiness of Selma from "Night Court" with the lovableness of Aunt Bea and the skeevy sexlessness of Julia Sweeney’s Pat on "Saturday Night Live." Ross radiates sweetness and light as Nate, and McCahill knows just how to shake it as the menacing gay rake. The scenarios are simple and well-paced with good use of Chicago scenery. The dinner scene, where Margaret invites Nate and James over as a gesture of goodwill, is nothing short of classic with James texting away while alternately patronizing, ignoring and ultimately ditching the hostess whom Nate had hoped he’d win over.
Yet, while friendship between a young gay guy and an unbreakable spinster is a laudably original cinematic subject, the dialogues between Nate and his peers (gay and straight) are as banal, smug and screechy as the word "fabulous" at a Boy’s Town brunch. Although McCahill handily plays the dippin’-n’-dappin’ James, the character himself is too twerpy and two-dimensional to warrant anything more than an eye-roll. Not even Nate seems gullible enough to fall too hard for him. Although we watch Margaret’s comedy career evolve from amateur to pro, her actual jokes go from bad to just as bad. Comparisons to Hal Ashby’s 1971 masterpiece "Harold & Maude" are inevitable (if unintended), but Ashby presents much more well-rounded characters (who are, incidentally, much further apart in age), higher stakes and a leaps-and-bounds better script. Still, Nate and Margaret’s symbiotic relationship does offer something quite groundbreaking in contemporary film, which will appeal to LGBTQ and straight audiences alike.
"Nate & Margaret"