Marjorie Prime Screen 75 of 12 reviews

Marjorie Prime

2017

Marjorie Prime Poster
  • Low-key brilliant direction, deeply empathetic portraits of broken people (every performance, especially Smith and Davis, has subtle layers that only reveal themselves upon later consideration), and a score that insinuates something sinister during moments of halcyon beauty and mourning.

  • Mapping the intersection between history and emotion, Almereyda finds himself in the terrain of Alain Resnais. There's also more than a hint of Ingmar Bergman in this narrative of a family in a rarefied yet chilly home, which D.P. Sean Price Williams renders as a cage of earthy colors engulfed by skies of celestial light—a realm of interior fantasy.

  • As a sad critique of our pervasive narcissism, Marjorie Primecalls to mind Tarkovsky and Solaris. Both posit a future that is little more than a hall of mirrors. Ironically, it is only in the final scene, when we observe private interaction between the three Primes -- mother, father, and adult daughter -- that the hope for authentic communication returns to this bloodless, blighted world.

  • Rather than gizmos or hypothetical futures, Almereyda is interested in philosophical issues concerning memory and identity. Adapted from the acclaimed 2014 play by Jordan Harrison, “Marjorie Prime” has a gentle, probing Chekhovian feel, and a deliberate dramatic approach that invites us to look at those aforementioned issues from various angles before coming to our own conclusions about them.

  • When you try to break down how [Mr. Almereyda] achieves his seductive magic with respect to this narrative, it all looks, initially, like nothing more than good cinematic common sense. The key is what he does on the sly: the way his subtle shifts of focus within a shot don’t just change the emphasis of the scene, but mirror quirks of consciousness. There’s more going on in this movie’s 90-plus minutes than in many summer blockbusters nearly twice its length.

  • Few are the moments in Marjorie Prime when the camera makes itself the most conspicuous thing on screen; they are usually punctuations, like a curiously composed wide-angle shot of Jon floating in a pool. And yet, its placement is never arbitrary. Like a Prime, it’s there to create the impression of an unbreakable pastel lull; the longer it keeps at it, the more disquieting it becomes.

  • Almereyda reaches a peak near the end when Tess and a Prime, seated in half-darkness, listen to the Band singing “I Shall Be Released,” Davis’s profound silence — head swaying; eyes open one moment and closed tenderly the next — communicating enormous power in a movie that generally has words to spare.

  • Whether someday soon we will all need (or get regardless) our own Primes is just one of the questions this likable but slightly anodyne movie raises yet doesn’t really run with. That may be a weakness in the play, and Almereyda, expertly juggling the tonal shifts between mordant and elegiac, keeps the faith. Those who admire the work of this bold innovator may be disappointed that he has muffled his own voice in the process.

  • The film might not have quite learned how to communicate visually rather than verbally, but the words are enticing ones and Sean Price Williams‘ serene, airy cinematography is fluid and varied enough that it never feels stagebound. So even though Almereyda’s directorial impulse seems to be that the images are there to contain the actors speaking words, rather than to build story in their own right, it doesn’t altogether hamper the film’s genteel effectiveness.

  • While I’m not necessarily hypnotized by sci-fi themes and, uh, “meditations on memory,” I’m very interested in whatever Almereyda does — he’s still one of the most unpredictable and still somehow undervalued American filmmakers around. In customizing the play to include his interests and motifs, he’s made a movie that is, indeed, quite moving as a story about people processing loss — something that starts early in life and never ends. He’s also given his performers free rein to be their best.

  • It suffers the classic problem of many stage-to-screen adaptations, in which an abundance of language occludes the possibility of much action. Almereyda, perhaps most famous for his Ethan Hawke–led film adaptation of Hamlet, never quite finds a way to translate that language into images. What the film intends to feel like emotional revelations more often come off as a series of preplanned declarations, like they're check marks on a screenwriter’s to-do list.

  • The director’s previous film, the polarizing and fun as hell Experimenter, meticulously built a labyrinthine puzzle of deception and hidden meanings, whereas this film is less assured and more wrought; the android’s choice of pronouns, the theme of how memories change over time, and the structural arc emerge out of dialogue, not detail.

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