Just a few days after stand-up icon Phyllis Diller opened in the hereafter, it was with great promise that Nate & Margaret turned up next in the review bin. What fun! Nate (Tyler Ross is delightfully boyish and seems totally comfortable with his character’s gay persona) is a barely legal filmmaker who finds Chicago much less closeted than his small hometown where the graduating class numbered 63. Thirty-three years his senior, a victim of child abuse, Margaret is a stoic spinster who waits tables for cash and tells jokes to initially silent audiences. The fodder for her routines is her dysfunctional family (a chapter from Diller’s book) but the yuks don’t start coming until she takes her young best friend’s advice to stop holding back and work in all of her “painful past.” Seems like everyone loves to laugh at the misery of others.
The out-but-gaily-alone (Margaret simultaneously his beard and fag hag) film student takes a chaperoned walk on the wild side by attending classmate Darla’s (Gabby Hoffman) stereotypical house parties. Conveniently forgetting his bag on their way home after one of them, Margaret notices something suddenly different about her constant companion once he’s retrieved his belongings. It has only taken James (Conor McCahill) a single just-wanted-to-say-hi kiss to ensnare the head-over-heels storyteller into his queer web. Naturally, this sudden love threatens the “exclusive” the sputtering stand-up wannabe has previously enjoyed.
From that point on, the film vacates its early promise, failing most miserably in the character development of its three leads.
James loses the opportunity of a lifetime by deflowering his adoring beau in an art gallery. Nate far too easily abandons his best bud on her night of nights. Tell-all Margaret keeps her burgeoning love under wraps, belying their thick-as-thieves relationship (and Nate doesn’t notice the spring in her step?); cleaning up her vanishing friend’s upstairs dump after being dumped herself for a trophy parade is a pox on all their houses.
Director Nathan Adloff along with co-writer Justin Palmer ought to be kept after school and write “I will let nuance and fully formed back-story lead our narrative path” a thousand times on the black-and-white storyboard. JWR