Although this movie came out sixty years ago, it is crazy relatable to everyone who's ever had seemingly well-intentioned but nosy friends/family members constantly ask you about your relationship status.
Social media hasn't help matters, either. You can't swing a cat online without running into another high school classmate getting married and posting too many photos of their growing fetus. (They all look the same, and more importantly, no one cares.)
Anyway, it's sort of comforting to know that those feelings of inadequacy were not invented by Facebook and Instagram, but have always been there. Thanks, Marty!
So Marty is about a kind but slightly unfortunately looking butcher who is unlucky in love. Since he's Italian, he is constantly bombarded by people harassing him for not being married yet, as though that is something that ever leaves his mind as a 34-year-old man living alone with his mother.
He has shades of the whole "nice guy" persona, but for the most part he actually seems to be a good person who is lonely and beaten down by years of rejection. Early on in the film, he has a particularly painful conversation with a girl that begins with her needing like ten minutes to remember who he actually was, and quickly descends into the "Oh, you're busy tonight? What about next weekend? Or the weekend after that?" kind of desperation that makes every single audience member cringe inwardly. Marty has no chill.
Also, I'm going to take a moment to get down on my knees and thank God that I was not dating in an era where you had to physically call someone up on the phone to ask them out of a date. There's a family legend about how my grandfather met my grandmother -- he goes over to her house for a date with her sister, and upon finding out that she's not there, without skipping a beat he asks my grandma, "Well, what are you doing tonight?" Unfortunately, he did not pass down the effortlessly cool genes to me, because this is what would happen to me in this whole phone-calling scenario.
Marty then goes out to a dance hall, where he meets a quiet, plain schoolteacher named Clara (whose unimpressed date has given her the slip).
I am supremely amused by the double standards in male and female beauty. The whole premise of the film is that these two "ugly" people are somehow able to find each other and connect. The unattractive man is Ernest Borgnine, who (I mean no disrespect and he would probably be the first to agree) is basically a human pug. The unattractive woman, by contrast, is Betsy Blair, a very pretty actress who was married to Gene Kelly, so she could clearly get it in her day.
The two fuggos feel an immediate kinship with each other, both thinking themselves profoundly unlovable. A conversation and a dance turns into an entire evening in each other's company. They go to a diner, where they talk until the early morning, and then head over to Marty's house, even though she's clearly a little uncomfortable with the idea.
And why shouldn't she be? Sure, he seems like a fine upstanding man, but she doesn't know that. She just met him! Then he tries to kiss her and when she politely turns him down, he yells at her and goes to pout in the other room. I realize he's insecure and has been hurt a lot, but Jesus Christ, Marty, this is why you're probably going to die alone.
Then, as if things couldn't get any more awkward, Marty's mother shows up, in what has to be probably the most Italian encounter I've ever seen in my life. There's a reason there's a stereotype about Italian men and their mothers.
But despite all of this dysfunction, Marty and Clara are still drawn to each other. Unfortunately, his mother doesn't like her (and is worried that her last single son marrying will leave her without a place in the family) and his friends openly insult her looks. So that's kind of annoying. Marty comes to his senses, luckily, and realizes that this girl is the best thing that's ever happened to him. Yay for Marty and Clara!
It's sort of rare that a romantic movie from the 1950s manages to still feel relatable all these years later, so when it does happen, it's to be commended. The fact that Marty still works is probably the highest compliment I can pay to it.
Sure, we've gone from dance halls to Tinder, but the underlying emotions are the same. Everyone worries about finding someone who will love them, and faces societal pressures if they're not doing it particularly quickly.
Marty is a role that Ernest Borgnine was born to play, and Betsy Blair imbues Clara with such warmth that even though they're frumping her up as best they can, there's still a certain beauty to her that goes beyond just looks. I'm a fan of romance films that show just a single night in a couple's relationship, leaving the audience to imagine what will become of them, and Marty does it particularly well.
Overall, it's a sweet little movie that has a lot more depth than a lot of films in its genre. Definitely worth taking a couple hours and watching it, wrapped up in a blanket and eating ice cream on the couch, when you're feeling especially like you might die alone. And if that's not a glowing recommendation, I don't know what is.