Marjorie Prime is a new independent film based on Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play. The story revolves around Marjorie (Lois Smith), an eighty-six-year-old mother who starts conversing with Walter Prime (Jon Hamm), a much younger version of her recently deceased husband in the form of sentient hologram, and therefore captivates Marjorie’s neglected daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and her once neglected son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins). In addition to the promising cast and interesting concept, several features from last year including Fences and Moonlight prove that movies based on plays can work. Upon finally seeing Marjorie Prime, I can safely that it is indeed a good movie.
The film is a technically amazing and that’s fitting since it’s based around Artificial Intelligence (AI). Editing, cinematography, and music all come together to create an on-screen stage production without sacrificing the subtle theatrical qualities needed for this type of movie. Michael Almereyda directs Marjorie Prime with such ease since he not only knows how to present this overlooked subject but also how to frame numerous scenes where one person is talking to a mostly visible inanimate object and both characters are seated; he relies more on dialogue than visuals and where I would usually prefer the other way around, this directing technique suits the film because it further creates the illusion of taking place in one specific location: an isolated beach house. Even if Marjorie Prime isn’t nominated for any technical Oscar nominations, the special effects team for sure deserves credit for using them sparingly yet still seeming effective in its production.
The performances in this film are all at least great especially when looking at a talented, A-list cast such as this one. According to a Q&A with Geena Davis that happened almost immediately after the screening I attended, Lois Smith portrayed the same lead role in three different versions of the play (one of which occurred after the movie finished filming) and I can now understand why Almereyda decided to direct a big-screen adaptation after seeing Smith represent Marjorie on-stage. Her depicted somberness feels so natural that I began to see a character and not an actress. Jon Hamm is also truly amazing as Walter Prime since he’s charming enough to infatuate Marjorie and provides the right amount of nuance to distinguish himself as an AI and not another human being. Tess and Jon are the characters that I have the most concerns with not because the actors aren’t memorable in their depictions but because they aren’t properly developed outside of introductory background information that the film tells us. Furthermore, I would’ve liked to spend more time with Marjorie and Walter Prime instead of the younger couple. Either way, each actor is incredibly subtle in their performance and no one overacts for the sake of unnecessary dramatic effect.
Writing is the worst general aspect of Marjorie Prime but it’s not necessarily bad. Execution is different from what I originally imagined and that’s where the film goes both ways. The dialogue isn’t too simplistic while also not feeling particularly ham fisted with its complex themes. Humor is another area in which Marjorie Prime surprises me; it’s only funny so that the film isn’t too serious. My biggest issue is that despite the intelligence, I would’ve liked to see more under the surface. AI is a complicated topic but Marjorie Prime doesn’t delve as deep with its themes and messages as both Ex Machina and Her did with theirs. So much intrigue in a mostly new science-fiction world can only go so far. Similarly, the story meanders towards the end since it introduces several underdeveloped elements that feel insignificant in retrospect as a result and therefore interrupt the film’s reasonably slow pacing.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
Marjorie Prime isn’t the best movie of the summer but it’s one that people should see. Although the screenplay isn’t perfect, the technicality and performances are already worth the price of admission. If anything, more people should see this film so that we as an audience can have more movies about a subject matter that honestly deserves more attention outside of the action genre.