Every year recently there’s been this amazing sci-fi movie that places less emphasis on spaceships and lasers for groundbreaking high concepts. There was Her, Ex Machina and Arrival. For the more cerebral sci-fi fan, Marjorie Prime is an absolute must-see. It boasts nominee-worthy performances, an atmospheric setting and an experience that will stay with audiences long after it’s over.
Set in the not so distant future, Marjorie (Lois Smith) recalls her life and her fondest memories. She spends a lot of that time reminiscing with an A.I. hologram simulation based on her late husband, Walter. To the irritation of her daughter, Tess (Geena Davis), and amusement of son-in-law, Jon (Tim Robbins), Marjorie modeled the hologram on Walter’s appearance back when he was in his 40s. This makes for the fun sight gag with Jon Hamm playing Walter and Marjorie claiming he wasn’t her most attractive suitor back in the day.
As the film unfolds, barely mentioned family secrets and motivations are revealed. The film isn’t set up like a puzzle, but it’s rewarding seeing the pieces fall in place to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the family dynamic.
Director/Writer Michael Almereyda adapts Jordan Harrison’s play and wisely doesn’t focus too much on the technology. This is a film about people with the technology simply serving as a tool. It’s an ingenious premise though and is one of those future tech that would truly be priceless.
The dialogue is exceptional with some great lines about the film’s main themes of memory, coping with loss and the grieving process. Mica Levi’s score is haunting and provides a tense presence that underscores this isn’t a feel-good film, but a means to dealing with loss.
Almereyda lays the film out in a way to quickly show the progression of time. The film’s play roots are evident with lengthy scenes in one location. In this case, it fits with the more personal settings and doesn’t feel like a limitation. With this intimate backdrop, Marjorie Prime wouldn’t work without strong performances from its four main actors.
Smith is rightfully going to get a lot of attention and a slew of nominations. She’s absolutely magnificent. Smith has had practice in the role as she’s starred in two stage productions, but this performance deserves the big screen presentation. We needed the close ups to see Smith’s warm smile when Marjorie has a fond memory or the joy in hearing an old story.
Smith captures the firm defiance of a senior citizen insistent that she’s still capable of living her life. But she also conveys the vulnerability of a person not fully in control of her mind or body. This is an incredibly versatile performance as Smith shows so many emotions and personality just from her body language. More competition will eventually surface, but for now, Smith seems like the favorite for numerous Best Supporting Actress awards.
The rest of the cast is also superb. Davis embodies the weary and worn-down daughter just trying to do right by her mother while ignoring her own pain. Robbins is gentle and supportive while Hamm offers just the right amount of stiffness to sell his AI character. There’s a trick to this role of providing comfort in an artificial manufactured way and Hamm nails it without being cartoonish. Hamm’s best work in the film might come from a pair of flashbacks looking at the real Walter with Marjorie. I wouldn’t complain if all four received nominations, but Smith and Hamm seem like the most likely bets.
Marjorie Prime is an exceptionally thought-provoking film. With its outstanding performances, this truly deserves to be remembered come year-end award time.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Jason Robinette/Film Rise