Marjorie Prime shows that science fiction films don’t need expensive special effects for exotic locations to make them interesting. Writer-director Michael Almereyda’s 2017 film (adapted from a play by Jordan Harrison) is an intimate character piece, with sterling work from its small (but very distinguished) cast.
Lois Smith is Marjorie, a woman with dementia who spends her days talking with an interactive hologram of her late husband (Jon Hamm). Her daughter, Tess (Geena Davis) is somewhat perturbed by the relationship her mother has with the machine, failing to understand how the hologram can offer a connection to the past that she can’t. Tess’ husband (Tim Robbins) also spends time with the hologram, helping to programme it and making it more life-like by telling it stories about Marjorie’s life.
A thought provoking film about family, loss and memory, Marjorie Prime is a hugely compelling drama. There are a few more turns than the above synopsis and the film unfolds and expands without ever spelling-out too much to its audience. The acting is the thing here, and everyone gets to have a monologue moment to show and explain their character. It’s a shame that a film like this doesn’t get an awards season push (it’s not flashy enough) because the quality of the acting-work on display here is exceptional. Hamm manages to walk a fine balance between the cool, detached hologram and a thoughtful confidant who helps Marjorie connect with her past. Mad Men showed that Hamm as got tremendous range and that he can easily navigate through a range of emotions. In a just world he’d be a huge movie star – and there’s still plenty of time for that to happen.
Lois Smith played Marjorie in the stage version and she gives her character an important vitality. A lesser actress could have over-looked this by playing Marjorie like a doddery old woman, but we truly get to understand her diminishing past, along with her failing present. Davis and Robbins are also excellent, creating fully rounded characters caught in an emotional struggle.
Marjorie Prime is a small and intimate film. It might have a small budget but this science fiction drama certainly has a lot of big themes. The performances and the film aren’t flashy but they are very poignant and powerful. There’s a realism to the film despite its futuristic trappings and its emotive content will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.