Sunday, August 20, 2017

Marjorie Prime

I mention in the review that this movie would probably seem most at home on television or in a screening room - it seems perfectly suited to the Coolidge's GoldScreen and I'd be pretty thrilled if they picked it up in a week or two - although for as cavernous as the Regent Theatre in Arlington is, it kind of works because it's a place that only shows movies occasionally right now, so you're going out of your way to see something unusual. It's a weird thing, how that sort of context interacts with the actual movie in one's head, and especially appropriate here. It's arguably the sort of thing you shouldn't really consider when discussing or critiquing the film itself, but the fact that this is a movie that is often about memory that point out that our memory of something is often actually the memory of the last time we remembered it, and not just a clean dip into a pristine databank, and the where and how becomes important. Not that it's ever not important, but maybe I'm inclined to think a little bit more about it for having to go out of my way and see it with a small group in a big theater.

That said, it's good enough that I'd rather more people see it. Unfortunately, it's got the sort of booking that makes word of mouth almost impossible to generate; the fourth and final screening in the Boston area is at the Regent Theatre in Arlington at 4pm today, barring someone else picking it up. Check it out if you can; it's impressive enough to merit some eyeballs even if that location flies under the radar.

Marjorie Prime

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2017 in the Regent Theatre (special engagement, digital)

Marjorie Prime doesn't seem like much to start (and seems misnamed to boot), a strange case featuring a director whose previous film seemed much more ambitious and a cast where many had been a big deal not so long ago only able to scrape together enough to do something that looks amateurish and flat. It never really escapes the shackles of its stage-bound roots - it even feels like the lights go down between acts - but by the end, that's something an audience may be willing to talk itself into as a positive, that a lack of filmic flourish allows the ideas to stand on their own.

Certainly, you can see where that's the plan, as the very opening scene gives a hint of how malleable memory can be, as Marjorie (Lois Smith), an 85-year-old woman whose mind is decaying, converses with a hologram whose AI is modeled on her dead husband Walter (Jon Hamm), and a dull conversation about going to see My Best Friends Wedding becomes an example of how the truth as people know it changes by accident and design. The film delves into this, talking about human and machine memory, subtly showing the AI being upgraded but never becoming perfect, performing a couple of hard twists as it finds other iterations of the premise articulated in that first scene. Writer/director Michael Almereyda, adapting a play by Jordan Harrison, doesn't try to sneak this in; he has his characters interrogate this new technology directly and among themselves, showing its flaws but also, in parallel, showing those of the human mind, very particularly these characters.

Marjorie is not along with Walter Prime, after all; daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and her husband Jon (Tim Robbins) have moved in with her, as has caregiver Julie (Stephanie Andujar), now that Marjorie needs twenty-four hour care. The film seldom expands beyond that circle - Marjorie's granddaughter is pointedly never shown - it doesn't necessarily have to; that core cast is pretty sharp. Jon Hamm gets the short end of the stick somewhat, only seen as the original Walter in one scene, and mostly spends the movie relatively flat and affectless; it's a capable portrayal of a computer program designed to project patience, but deliberately unvaried. Lois Smith also gets a more narrow than expected range of material as Marjorie, in that the audience never sees her swerve from good days to bad as her mind deteriorates, but rather the horror of knowing she is losing herself. It's careful, unglamorous work, though she does have some later scenes that make interesting contrasts to what both she and Hamm were doing before.

Full review on EFC.

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