High concept independent fare is hard to pull off. That kind of goes without saying. Inherently, science fiction cinema does tend to require a budget. The exception is when the entire concept is something that doesn’t need to be shown. Ideas can be expanded upon by actors and dialogue. This week, an interesting example of this particular type of indie film is hitting theaters in Marjorie Prime. The fact that the flick was even attempted is a testament to the talented cast assembled, including veteran actress Lois Smith, who could find herself in the Oscar conversation if things break the right way for her.
The movie is an adaptation of the play of the same name, with Smith reprising her portrayal of the title role. Essentially, this is a bit of a sci-fi tale, though the human emotion is what’s on full display. In the future, a service exists that provides holographic recreations of recently deceased loved ones. This allows the bereaved to have some closure, relatives to get to know someone they might not have fully known, etc. It also provides a window into the people still around. That’s the case here, as Marjorie (Smith) has a recreation of her late husband Walter (Jon Hamm) with her as she enters her final days. She’s chosen to see Walter from his middle age, though she sometimes changes the details of their history. Her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son in law Jon (Tim Robbins) live there too, leading to different interactions with Walter. That’s just the start as well, with further recreations coming as time passes. There are deep questions at play here, ones that you may have to decide on the answers for yourself, after the credits roll. Michael Almereyda adapts the play and directs here, with the small additions to the cast including Stephanie Andujar and Hannah Gross. Sean Price Williams handles the cinematography, while a moving score comes to us by star composer in the making Mica Levi.
I’ll admit to having some difficulty with this one. It takes a while for the full weight of the premise to wash over you. Luckily, the quartet of main cast members are exceptional. Each of them gets to do something very different, while Smith especially shines bright, reinterpreting a role she’s played before on the stage. The small ensemble turns in some of the year’s best work, even if Almereyda can hold you at arm’s length sometimes. He wins you over by the end, but it arguably takes longer than it should. As an added bonus, fans of Levi’s recent scores now have another one to add to her impressive collection. This movie won’t be for everyone, but if you find the emotion of the subject intriguing, you’ll likely get something out of it.
Awards wise, Marjorie Prime is going to be a tough sell outside of the acting categories. Truly, the only chance for this one is to have Smith break out from the pack. If a larger campaign is mounted, it would be in Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (for Hamm and/or Robbins), Best Supporting Actress (for Davis and/or Smith), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Almereyda), and Best Original Score. Again, it’s probably Smith in Supporting Actress or bust. Luckily for the decision makers here, that category could be a weak one in 2017. If so, Smith could sneak in and score her first career nomination.
Starting today, audiences in select theaters can see this cast do such fine work in Marjorie Prime. If you’re a fan of anyone in this ensemble, they’re doing among the best work of their careers, so that’s worth noting. Time will tell if a small film like this can make any Oscar plays, but it impressed many at the Sundance Film Festival this year, fueling the buzz we’re currently seeing. It’s out in limited release right now, so you can potentially head to a theater immediately and see it for yourself. I say go for it. You may very well be profoundly moved by what you find…
Be sure to check out Marjorie Prime, beginning its theatrical run right now!