“Marmalade” is a Robin Hood Story Full of Sweet Surprises

It’s a tough world out there. In the wake of a deadly pandemic that ripped away the social safety net and a growing gap between the wealthy and poor, there’s a palpable feeling of hopelessness in rural America. With the deck increasingly stacked against society’s lower crust, what else is there to do but break the system? Keir O’Donnell’s Marmalade plays with this concept of righteous rebellion in a bank heist love story filled with sweet surprises. Like the titular seductress, this endearing film begins as a predictable tale of manipulative love, but the story twists through shocking turns to reveal a diamond in the rough.

Baron (Joe Keery) is a babe in the woods simpleton who’s just been arrested for robbing a bank. Moments after meeting his cellmate Otis (Aldis Hodge), he’s offering a boatload of money to help him break out of jail. When Otis understandably laughs him off, Baron begins a winding story he hopes will illustrate his urgent need to escape. You see, it wasn’t his idea to rob the bank. He did it because of a girl named Marmalade (Camila Morrone): the love of his life and future mother of his child. As the story pours out, not only do we begin to care for this loveable loser who just wants to care for his sick mama, Otis grows fond of him as well and begins to entertain the idea of helping him reunite with the love of his life. 

Joe Keery leads the film in a strong performance that takes some time to build. We’re initially perplexed by his mop of horrendous hair and can’t believe anyone would forfeit a job to keep this atrocious look. But appearances turn out to be deceiving and this easily duped young man has a bit more fortitude than meets the eye. What initially feels like a Forrest Gump homage – thick southern accent and all – becomes an endearing portrait of a man desperate for love who just happens to cross paths with the wrong girl. 

Maronne delivers a flashier performance as the free-spirited Marmalade. We immediately clock her as bad news and spend the first half of the film begging Baron to see through her flighty claims. Marmalade is exhausting with her intentionally quirky charm and Manic Pixie Dream Girl energy, but that’s kind of the point. With pink hair, a syrupy southern accent, and a girly damsel in distress vibe, she systematically works her way into Baron’s heart. She’s both the film’s early hook and it’s biggest detriment as we grow tired of wishing Baron would simply wake up and ditch this calamitous siren. 

Billed as a love story between Baron and Marmalade, the film’s strongest relationship proves to be the growing connection between unlikely friends. A gruff, but witty cell-mate, Hodge serves as a proxy for the audience and a way to let us know someone else sees the trap Baron is careening into. But as this ridiculous story begins to take shape, so does a growing connection between these disparate men. Otis becomes an earnest protector and any differences between these new allies begin to fall away. With impressive comedic timing, Hodge allows us to laugh at Baron’s naivete without ever feeling like one more addition to the dogpile.  

In the midst of this somewhat frustrating love story, O’Donnell pulls off an interesting bait and switch. Baron’s motivation for robbing banks lies solely on affording medicine for his dying mama – pills that seemingly grow more expensive by the day. This noble mission and altruistic spirit keep us on his side even though we know his scheme is destined to fail. We also learn more about Marmalade’s troubling past and the horrific abuse she suffered in the foster system. When she insists that it’s time for a new system of power, we’re tempted to join her revolution. 
Marmalade takes a little while to build steam. It’s a predictable story about a loveable loser throwing everything at the wall in a stupid attempt to find happiness. But as Marmalade’s dangerous grasp nears its logical conclusion, the story spirals in a new direction that leaves us questioning our loyalties to this enigmatic villainess. A late stage twist takes us in a direction that feels both satisfying and validating as multiple puzzle pieces start to fall into place. What begins as a familiar story about a frustrating dope turns into an exciting and sweet take on the bank heist subgenre and a robin hood story for the modern age.

Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.