close menu
Holographic Jon Hamm Wants to Ease Your Pain in MARJORIE PRIME (Sundance Review)

Holographic Jon Hamm Wants to Ease Your Pain in MARJORIE PRIME (Sundance Review)

“By the next time we talk it will be true.”

In an era marked by individuals creating their reality–from cultivating social media presences that always show the sunny side to alternative facts– Marjorie Prime is a timely meditation on memory, how it binds us to each other, and how unreliable those bonds can be.

Based on Jordan Harrison’s play, Michael Almereyda’s film translates the action from the stage to a posh beach house where Marjorie (Lois Smith) manages her final, dementia-tapped years with the help of Walter Prime (Jon Hamm), a holographic approximation of her husband when he was still in his forties. They spend afternoons chatting, with Walter Prime playing back old stories about proposing to her after My Best Friend’s Wedding or enjoying the saffron-colored flags of Christo’s “The Gates” art installation in Central Park from a time-freezing park bench.

Her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) also take care of her, although Tess is as wary of using the Prime technology as she is uncomfortable telling her mother a comforting lie.

The near-future, sci-fi conceit isn’t at all original, but what makes it sing is that the AI holograms learn about who they’re representing from the loved ones they serve, opening the door wide open to false memories and rosy representations of the past. The film asks a question about what we’d all do if we could remake a lost family member in our own image like soothing humanoid parrot. If you had to, could you reconstruct the intricacies of your wife, husband, mother, or father?

In fact, the movie asks a lot of questions. Can time and memory smoothing over the rough edges of life? How well do we know the person across from us? Is it better to share your house with the pleasant lie or the mixed bag of truth?

Unfortunately, Marjorie Prime only skims the surface of these questions, seeking translucent praise simply for thinking of them. In a similar way, since it’s concerned largely with deep thought flirtation, the film doesn’t reach too far down into the muddy earth of these characters. It wears their past tragedies on its sleeve–a brother who committed suicide, estranged children–but Tess and Jon approach all of it with a WASPy detachment that refuses to let you further in. The tragedies become tokens rather than lived-in, haunting pains, the same way you might know an acquaintance as “the one who got pancreatic cancer” without ever knowing thing one about what that experience is really like.

The cardinal sin of the adaptation is that it barely moves the play onto the screen. Besides Sean Price Williams’ camerawork adding dynamism to seated conversations, Almereyda uses no cinematic tools or language to bridge the divide between the two art forms. Watching it, you get the sense that being in the same room as the actors and feeling their energy during a live performance would bring this thoughtful contemplation to greater life. As a film, the screen becomes a barrier between us and the strong, but stage-bound, performances.

Smith (who many will remember best from The Nice Guys and Twister) is illuminating as the cranky, sentimentalist, re-proving her acting prowess. Likewise, Davis is strong and achingly realistic as the daughter who is terrified of her mother changing, choosing denial over acceptance of the dementia that’s daily reshaping the parent in her mind. Ditto for Hamm and Robbins, but the performances were never going to be an issue. This is an all-star cast elevating interesting, yet dramatically and philosophically facile, material.

Marjorie Prime is clever and bittersweet in its revelations, the subtle changes in what people remember or how they actively to choose to remember, but it ultimately feels like a fascinatingly humane concept deprived of its full potential impact.

2.5 out of 5 holographic AI burritos

2-5-burritos3

Images: Passage Pictures

Todd Phillips Reveals First Look at Joaquin Phoenix in His JOKER Movie

Todd Phillips Reveals First Look at Joaquin Phoenix in His JOKER Movie

article
Action Figures Remixing Iconic Movie Scenes Will Blow Your Mind

Action Figures Remixing Iconic Movie Scenes Will Blow Your Mind

article
Red Velvet Cinnamon Roll Guts Will Fill You Up with Deliciousness

Red Velvet Cinnamon Roll Guts Will Fill You Up with Deliciousness

article