Marion Bridge is a Canadian indie set in Sydney, a town of about 30,000 people in eastern Nova Scotia. (Marion Bridge is the name of a nearby bridge over the Mira River, and of the tiny town where the bridge is located, immortalized in a popular Canadian folk song Song for the Mira, which extols the virtues of small town, rural life—“I’ll trade you ten of your cities for Marion Bridge, and the pleasure it brings.”)
Marion Bridge tells the story of three adult sisters—in their 30s and 40s—from Sydney. Two still live there. The third, the youngest, has moved away to the big city—Toronto—but at the start of the film returns to the family home for an extended stay.
The immediate issue they face is that their hospitalized mother is fading physically, though mentally she seems to pretty much still have it together. In some ways they all get along and have a strong family bond, but it’s apparent that there is also plenty of tension, conflict, and past trauma in this family that they have never fully dealt with. Some of the specifics are revealed and others hinted at over the course of the movie.
Arguably the most damaged of the sisters is the youngest one, who has long fought smoking, drinking, and drug abuse issues, quitting each countless times only to backslide and have to quit again. Her sisters are used to her coming back home reformed and full of energy and optimism, only to end up losing steam and “making trouble,” and are wary of what she’ll pull this time around, especially when she announces that they should bring their mother back home and take care of her (with her insisting—to their understandable skepticism—that she’ll be the primary caregiver).
As I say, these are damaged women, especially the youngest. We learn that the biggest abuse suffered by any of them came at the hands of their father, who is no longer a part of the family but is still alive and not too far away. Eventually they get up the nerve to go and confront him, but upon finding him if anything farther gone than their mother (physically he may be marginally more functional than their bedridden mother, but mentally he’s 50% or less as sharp, as he fades in and out), they realize that to unleash anger upon someone so pathetic would itself be rather pathetic.
Though Marion Bridge deals with issues that are potentially sensationalist to varying degrees, it handles them in a mature, thoughtful manner. If anything, viewers may find the style more slow and boring than overemotional and melodramatic. I respected that approach to the material, and I found the film well-acted and thoroughly professional and competent. There are no significant plausibility issues or plot holes—that I caught—or other clear weaknesses in the film.
Marion Bridge is not a movie that reached me at a deep level, and I wouldn’t place it among my favorites, but I cared enough about the characters and the situations to stay at least somewhat interested throughout.