If you like the FX series Louie, which is about Louis C. K.'s life
as a standup comic as well as his personal life, which can be lonely
and awkward, then you'll probably like this movie. Instead of a
middle-aged man in New York, you have a middle-aged woman in Chicago.
Instead of a single father trying to navigate the dating world, you have
a 52-year-old spinster named Margaret whose only friend is a young,
gay, college student studying film named Nate who goes with her to buy
coffee mugs or other knick-knacks.
The first season of Louie had vignettes that were interrupted with him doing a few minutes of standup, just him with a microphone telling self-deprecating jokes. Nate & Margaret is structured similarly. Only here, the vignettes are of Nate and Margaret, hanging out together and encouraging each other in their respective pursuits. Margaret supports Nate in his pursuit of being a filmmaker and Nate supports Margaret in her pursuit of being the next Seinfeld or something.
The relatively easy thing about Louie is that it's written, produced, directed and edited by Louis C. K., so when it comes to those interruptions of standup routines, he knows how to accomplish them. This movie was co-written, produced and directed by Nathan Adloff. This is Adloff's feature debut. Justin D. M. Palmer assisted with the screenplay, but, from what I gather, neither of them are standup comics. They have done comedic short films like "I Love You This Much," which is available on IMDB, but, for these two to come up with the material for a middle-age, female comic would require some skill like Second City-style skill. It requires skill to make the material funny as well as to make the material decidedly unfunny, which Adloff and Palmer do to great effect.
Natalie West (Roseanne) plays Margaret and I'd be curious to know how much was improvisation on her part, but I give much of the credit to Adloff and Palmer because Margaret's routine is a routine with a definite theme. Margaret's jokes are all centered around her abusive relationships and her aversion to dating because of it. In an interview, Adloff admitted to having Todd Solondz as an inspiration, and Margaret is totally a character out of Happiness (1998).
She's contrasted with Nate, played by Tyler Ross (The Wise Kids), who has just started dating. Nate is new to Chicago. He comes from a small town where dating is something he couldn't openly do. Nate is also new to dating. He would probably still be new to it if his new boyfriend, James, played by Conor McCahill, wasn't so forward and aggressive.
Nate met James at his friend Darla's birthday party. Now, they spend most of their time together. This comes to the detriment of Nate's friendship with Margaret, which you feel was a strong one. It's never explained why or even how the two became so close, but there certainly is a tight bond between them. James' presence threatens that. Things get tense until an eventual explosion.
In that respect, Ross gets to do all the dramatic heavy-lifting. On the surface, it's obvious why Margaret wants and perhaps needs this friendship with someone young enough to be her grandson, but it's through subtle ways we see why Nate wants and perhaps needs this friendship. I would have liked it if Adloff had spelled it out more, but the soundtrack is such a joy and the performances are interesting that it made me want to take the bike ride with them.
Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But No Violence or Nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 18 mins.