Vancouver Queer Film Festival Review: Nate & Margaret

This story of the friendship between a 19-year-old film student and his 52-year-old neighbour is a definite winner. It’s one part comedy, one part drama, all parts sweet and heartwarming, and my favourite movie of the festival so far.

A big part of its strength is the casting. Tyler Ross, last seen in The Wise Kids, is perfect as the sweet, kind-hearted Nate (and incidentally, seems to have filled out a bit, not that I looked or anything); Natalie West, who I knew way back when from Roseanne, brings the lonely, insecure and cynical Margaret to life like no other.

At first I wasn’t quite sure how to take the characters. Their very first scene, of shopping for weird assorted knickknacks in a thrift store, seemed to peg them both as eccentric loners. But as it turns out, Nate does have a life of his own; it’s Margaret who’s alone, with apparently no other friends but Nate, a dead-end job in a coffee shop, and dreams of doing standup comedy.

It also looked like a sequel of sorts to The Wise Kids, except with a different name for Tyler Ross’s character. And the action takes place in Chicago instead of New York. But, according to the film’s lovely director, Nathan Adloff, who chatted with some of us later on, that part was completely unintentional: Nate was in fact mostly created from his own life experience.

The plot isn’t anything earth-shattering, and I knew almost right away how things would play out: as soon as James turned into a fake, shallow bitch and did not hit it off with Margaret, I knew he and Nate would not stay together, and that he would create a rift between the two friends, leaving them both alone and unhappy, but the rift would be healed eventually, the friendship becoming stronger as a result. But did I care? Nope. I didn’t come for the complex plot or surprising twists; I came for Tyler Ross’s goofy smile, for the repeated warm fuzzies and for the uplifting lesson that things do get better if you trust your friends and your own better nature.

Some more thoughts:

The scene in the diner where James and Nate broke up, and Nate publicly accused James of owning underage porn, was shocking, much more than all the abuse standup comedy jokes, and it snapped me out of the story for a second. If true, it was unnecessary to the story because James was already evil enough. But if Nate made it up (more likely), that was fucking cold, and felt almost out of character even in his emotional state. But then, maybe, no worse than what he said to Margaret later. The horrible thing is, those words might have been at least a little bit honest. I imagine there was a part of him that pitied this strange old lady, was embarrassed by her, and tired of having to explain their relationship over and over.

Another point that bothered me: Given Margaret’s history of abuse and unhappy relationships, and Nate’s own bad relationship, it looks like the movie’s other message could be that Love Hurts? But I don’t think that’s the intent. There’s really nothing to suggest Nate won’t find a worthwhile boyfriend down the line—and Margaret too, why not? Early on her new manager seemed to be gently coming on to her, though that particular plotline was dropped. The movie’s focus is simply on the friendship between the two protagonists, who find joy not in boyfriends but in following their dreams, supporting each other along the way.

And that’s a happily ever after I can totally live with.