Credit: Brainstorm Media
by Jake Tropila Featured Film Genre Views

Marmalade — Keir O’Donnell

February 27, 2024

Keir O’Donnell is chiefly recognized as an actor, arguably best known for his supporting turn in 2005’s Wedding Crashers, in which he played a young man who bore a creepy infatuation with Vince Vaughn’s character (“The painting was a gift, Todd.”). With two decades of consistent work under his belt, O’Donnell aims to graduate to writer/director status with Marmalade, his feature-length debut. Chasing the giddy highs of Raising Arizona and Bonnie and Clyde with a lightness of touch, Marmalade makes for an appealing calling card for O’Donnell, who demonstrates a remarkable knack for genre filmmaking. Aiding him in his quest is Stranger Things’ Joe Keery, who takes on the lead role and delivers one of his finest performances to date. Brisk and immensely charming, Marmalade occasionally veers down the path of being too clever for its own good, but O’Donnell offers enough inventive twists and turns to keep this iteration of the lovers-on-the-run subgenre fresh and exciting before guiding it to a safe landing.

Keery plays Baron, a young man who finds himself locked behind bars after a bank heist in the opening moments of the film. Forced to bunk with Otis (Aldis Hodge), a longtime con with a rap sheet that involves multiple escapes, Baron regales his cellmate with the story of Marmalade (Camila Morrone), a striking young woman who assisted in said heist and now has $250,000 cash waiting for him on the outside. Offering his entire share to Otis should Otis successfully spring him from the clink, Baron puts his trust in his new ally, hoping to be back on the outside before the day is done.

One of the purest pleasures of Marmalade is how well O’Donnell populates Baron’s life with charming idiosyncrasies without wading too far into the depths of quirk. Growing up in a sleepy southern U.S. town — so sleepy that it has only one red light, one ice cream shop, and folks so friendly it negates the need for a police station or fire department — Baron has recently lost his job at the post office for refusing to cut his shaggy hair. To make matters worse, the loss of gainful employment shuts off the only income he had to help pay for his mother’s life-saving medicine, which has recently had an unfortunate spike in price. When all hope is seemingly lost, the pink-haired Marmalade roars into his life with her shiny blue convertible. The chemistry between the two is immediate, commencing an easy-going relationship that is disrupted by the sudden introduction of violence. Marmalade’s propensity for crime offers a financial bailout for the hapless Baron, who must now weigh these newfound costs against the benefits.

Having always been a standout amongst his Netflix ensemble, Keery — who also really impressed with a more villainous turn in the latest season of Fargo — is an absolute delight as Baron, playing him as a gentle, simple-minded soul, but certainly not an idiot. Morrone is also pleasantly winsome as the title character, sinking her teeth into the extroverted criminal with fiery aplomb. Thankfully, O’Donnell is wise not to let her devolve into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory, even offering a clever subversion of the trope. With the first half of the story largely told in flashback, Marmalade shifts gears in its second half, changing perspectives and bringing Otis to the fore of the action. To say what role the incarcerated man ultimately plays would be to give the game away, as O’Donnell has many surprises in store for the viewer, spinning the tale of Baron and Marmalade into unexpected directions. It’s tough to say how much of the earlier sequences hold water once certain revelations are made, and O’Donnell offers nothing really new to say once Big Pharma is revealed to be the ultimate villain (and that’s before you even consider the name of the film’s fictional drug, Pleonexia, which is just another word for greed), but the first-time director keeps his head above water with his wit and formal assuredness. Marmalade doesn’t strive for grand importance, but it offers a great deal of diverting fun and would make for an enjoyable afternoon for those looking for a minor dose of Coen Bros-esque entertainment.

DIRECTOR: Keir O’Donnell;  CAST: Joe Keery, Camila Morrone, Aldis Hodge;  DISTRIBUTOR: Brainstorm Media;  IN THEATERS: February 9;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 39 min.