Marmalade is Initially Too Sweet but Preserves its Complexity for the End

Spoilers ahead.

Max Domel ‘26 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Marmalade, as a food item, is sweet, standard, and simple. Marmalade, the directorial debut from Australian-American actor Keir O’Donnell, is seemingly so as well—at first. Marketed as a reimagined Bonnie-and-Clyde romantic heist movie, the story follows a southern, small-town boy named Baron (Joe Keery) who gets thrown in jail. Upon this fate, Baron tells the story of how he got there—as well as how he met his partner in love and crime, Marmalade (Camila Morrone)—to his new cellmate Otis (Aldis Hodge). Along the way though, as the plot twists ensue, an entirely new story unfolds. Marmalade can’t shake off its weaknesses in the forms of faulty organization and one-dimensionality, but it is admirable for its weirdly interesting personality, originality, and clever reshaping of characters by the end.

Structurally, the movie follows as a middle, beginning, end. Baron is thrown into prison almost immediately and soon makes a deal with Otis that he will receive $250K from Baron and Marmalade’s bank robbery if Otis helps break him out. For Otis to believe him, this is where Baron dives into the backstory. The remaining first half of the film is spent living in these flashbacks. Baron takes care of his sick mother and lives a solo life. He meets Marmalade out of nowhere and they quickly fall in love—having romantic car rides, going to stores, devising plans—before finally committing the heist. There’s lots of surrealism sprinkled throughout—like Marmalade’s great costume design or a parking lot dancing scene with the two of them in three-faced masks—and everything seems to move along with little to no friction.

However, this half of the film is where most of the issues lie. For one, the flashbacks can get to be overly chaotic, and particular sequences have very jarring pacing and time cuts. There are also some oddly stupid character decisions, like how Baron starts to neglect taking care of his mother after Marmalade moves in or how Marmalade randomly explodes at Baron when he hesitates to follow through with steps for the heist. There is lots of action, but without clear importance yet. All of the characters come off as pretty basic as well, especially Otis—who talks in overdone prison slang—and Baron, who as other characters put it, is fairly dumb. At the midpoint, though, the movie truly picks up and positively surprises viewers as they discover this was all by design.

The second, and much better developed, half of the film begins when Otis is revealed to be an FBI special agent trying to catch Marmalade. He was actually playing a role in the cell, and from then on the movie appears to have much more awareness than it did at first. The plot fully springs into motion and scenes move with more causality and efficiency. Otis is able to “break out” Baron from prison, and bring him back to the outside world, where the manhunt ensues. 

Then matters become even more complicated. Through some of the small details from Baron’s story in the first half, which were initially easy to overlook, Otis realizes that a lot of it was made up. Marmalade never even existed, and Baron has been the only robber the whole time, and he dresses up as a woman who looks like Marmalade from the story to commit the acts. Just like with Otis, Baron ends up being a more complex and interesting character, too. There’s also some clever details flipped in the process of these plot twists, such as pill bottles made out for a woman Baron knows named Eda Lamram, which is “marmalade” spelled backwards.

Overall, there are also technical elements in Marmalade worthy of praise. This includes inventive camera work, like one shot where the frame rotates 180 degrees as a car rolls up. Second, there are plenty of quirky and fun touches throughout, like Marmalade’s narration of their preparation steps accompanied by bubbly text on the screen. The film also pulls out a few really funny moments of situational comedy, even during the flashback portion. As a sex scene between Baron and Marmalade gets going, Otis appears on the side of the screen to interrupt, and it cuts back to the cell where Baron has likely been sharing unnecessary details to a grossed-out Otis. The acting work is also to be commended. Joe Keery is brilliant as usual and very multi-layered; even his facial expressions convey impressive depths of feeling. His long hair and southern accent also make for an amusing switch-up from his typical Steve from Stranger Things style. Camila Morrone is lively and charismatic, and Aldis Hodge delivers a sharp and smart performance as he switches between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s.

There is, of course, the argument to be made that the twists are unearned and unprompted, and those criticisms are definitely warranted. Ultimately,  the first half of the movie still takes some willpower to get through. It makes sense that the film is a directorial debut. Yet the film is nonetheless very much worth a viewing because it challenges audiences’ patience and perceptions in surprisingly interesting and original ways. Also, having Joe Keery as the star always provides for compelling entertainment. Marmalade feels raw and could benefit from some polishing up, but just like marmalade, it remains sweet and satisfying the way it is, making a strong case that there is always more to people than they are given credit for.

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