Sundance London: Marjorie Prime

Marjorie Prime
Marjorie Prime
Directed by Michael Almereyda
Starring Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Lois Smith and Tim Robbins
Screening at Sundance London June 2nd & 4th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

Based on Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play of the same name, I can imagine Marjorie Prime is quite profound on the stage, and if the film cast were to perform it live, it would be a sensation. Sadly, director Michael Almereyda’s execution of the story doesn’t quite work; great performances and sophisticated ideas alone are not enough to salvage it through its choppy editing, sound issues and perpetual morosity.

Cue the sound of rain, even when the weather is clear and a room doesn’t have windows – this is the soundtrack to Marjorie Prime. As an audio person, I found it difficult to get past the distracting sound, the awkward ADR and the harsh edits, especially with a film that centres around its dialogue. The story editing is also to blame for breaking my immersion as from scene to scene it’s near impossible to figure out how much time has passed and what is happening with each of the characters. Perhaps this is intentional as a way to help the audience see Marjorie’s point of view as she’s an 86-year-old woman who suffers from some form of dementia, but not one so severe that she isn’t perfectly coherent in each scene she features in. In fact, she’s more than coherent – Lois Smith’s performance as Marjorie is pure elegance and class, captivating throughout. Perfectly cast as Marjorie, it is a beauty to watch her portray the elderly woman as she speaks to a computerized hologram of her deceased husband Walter (Jon Hamm) who features in his 40’s – his prime.

In this world of Marjorie Prime, holograms of the dead are readily accessible, and they even talk to each other somehow. They begin as a bit of a blank slate, and through discussions with living people, they begin to piece together a picture of the person they’re mimicking, enhancing them to be better replicas. Through these conversations, the idea of memory is explored, with the technological wonder of the holograms merely a clever device to get the exploration started. The inclusion of the holograms may also serve the purpose of questioning how technology affects our memories and identities – again, another interesting idea, but the topic of memory alone is enough to digest.

Can we change our memories? It would seem so, based on Marjorie trying to alter her digital husband’s stories of the past. The greatest story of all coming right at the start of the film with Jon Hamm giving a highly amusing synopsis of My Best Friend’s Wedding. But it goes on and on without delving much deeper. Again, I can see this working on stage, especially with such high calibre actors as they’ve managed to retain for the film. But as a movie? This should have been a short one. Exploring this idea with this scenario would have been a brilliant short film, powerful, effective and to the point. As is, Marjorie Prime waffles on, exploring the same premise three times over with no further insight. All we need is Marjorie and Walter. Geena Davis as Marjorie’s daughter and Tim Robbins as her son-in-law work well as peripheral characters filling in the blanks of Marjorie’s story, but when it shifts focus to them, it feels redundant.

Great ideas and a wonderful cast, with a standout performance from Lois Smith, sadly isn’t enough to keep this film in its prime.


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