Marjorie Prime Review
Set in a fairly nondescript beachfront house at some point in the not too distant future, Marjorie Prime's modest setting belies its big ideas. 85-year-old Marjorie (Lois Smith) is living out her remaining years with dementia accompanied by Walter Prime (Jon Hamm), a holographic representation of her deceased husband when he was in his forties. They sit and converse about old memories Walter has learnt from Marjorie, affording her the opportunity to reminisce about life in a way suited to her own experience. Prime is basically a handsome database of faded recollections able to preserve each one in a time capsule to safeguard against our inevitable memory failings.
Adapted from Jordan Harrison's play of the same name, director Michael Almereyda’s film uses this set-up to look at how perceptions of ourselves and others are altered by the passing of time. Tim Robbins and Geena Davis complete a strong line-up, playing Marjorie's daughter Tess and son-in-law Jon respectively. Ironically, for all the long discussions and reflections on their relationships with each other they remain shallow representations of real people. The performances from an experienced cast are good enough but the many questions posed fail to find their target largely due to its airy stage-like setting. Sean Price Williams' washed out cinematography doesn't help to substantiate the films concept, making it look as light and weightless as the script often sounds.
More Primes appear as the film progresses and these ‘twists’ only serve to enhance its theatrical origins, feeling like contrivances created to forcefully state points it fails to make through underwritten characters. Neither is the film helped by the camera positions which focusses on each person as they speak, isolating the conversation so it feels less like a genuine conversation and more like two people talking at each other. Each new ‘segment’ only serves to repeat similar questions and the crucial insight needed to elevate the subject matter beyond mere surface level never makes itself apparent.
Perhaps the reason the characters feel so thin is they exist purely to serve a thematic purpose, which would make sense if there was a more rigorous interrogation of the ideas. Those posed remain unchallenged let alone properly addressed, which makes it difficult not to search for more substance elsewhere; an offering it fails to provide. This once again points back to the story's origins, where stage sets can become more fluid and representative of further meaning and the hollow atmosphere of the film is an issue that Almereyda struggles to overcome. The cinematic version of Marjorie Prime is never strong enough to find its own sense of meaning and instead leaves you imagining how much better the story could have played out on stage with the same cast.