Marjorie Prime

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Jon Hamm in Marjorie Prime - in the near future — a time of artificial intelligence — 86-year-old Marjorie has a handsome new companion who looks like her deceased husband and is programmed to feed the story of her life back to her. What would we remember, and what would we forget, if given the chance?
"The narrative depth also accrues gently, like sedimentary layers, as the film progresses, looking deceptively slight at first but gradually building into something more profound."

It could be said that we are all the sum of our memories and that they shape our sense of self - which is why the idea of being diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's is so terrifying for most people. Some time in the not-too-distant future Marjorie (Lois Smith) finds it frightening some of the time, but there's also a specific memory that she has spent her whole life trying to forget.

Now, gradually losing her recollections, her family have acquired a holographic 'Prime' for her in the shape of her dead husband Walter (Jon Hamm). Walter's Prime looks just like the original Walter, except possibly for around the nose, and Marjorie has chosen his incarnation to look as he did in their younger years. Schooled in the memories of the family by Marjorie's son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins), he tells Marjorie stories from her past, encouraging her to elaborate on them and reveal more, even if her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) finds the whole thing creepy at best.

Copy picture

Michael Almereyda has adapted his film from Jordan Harrison's play of the same name and the scripting is dense and tight, meditating on memories from all angles, not just the way that we cherish or despise them but our ability to embellish them or even change them if the mood takes us. Walter only knows what the family tells him so his memory is differently incomplete to Marjorie's but are these missing moments so much different from the way a key event in Tess and Jon's life was marked by pistachio or vanilla ice-cream, depending on who you ask?

The science-fiction element of this plot is gracefully slotted in - at first we might think Walter is living and breathing. The narrative depth also accrues gently, like sedimentary layers, as the film progresses, looking deceptively slight at first but gradually building into something more profound.

Beyond the exploration of recollections, this is also a contemplation of family relationships, particularly the way that mothers and daughters can push one another's buttons. As Jon says, he can "see better from a distance".

The film, perhaps inevitably given its talky nature, retains some of the confinement of the play but Almereyda does much to mitigate the back and forth. In particular, he uses the sound of the waves crashing outside Marjorie's house to give a sense of movement and Mica Levi's scoring is also clever, only becoming obtrusive at a moment when we are intended to notice it, but otherwise subtly supportive. Hamm is impressively dead pan as Walter, just 'off' enough that we can share the other characters' reservations, sitting beatifically when not called upon to speak. Smith, meanwhile, gives the sort of performance that you miss when it's not around. Davis and Robbins are also on top form, showing the way that Tess's fractiousness is offset by Jon's easygoing nature, even as his problems are economically indicated by the way he always has a glass of scotch to hand.

Some films make you cry and some, like Marjorie Prime, leave you with a lasting feeling melancholy and an urge to hug your mum.

Reviewed on: 25 Jan 2017
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Marjorie Prime packshot
A family buy a hologram to help their matriarch, who is losing her memory.

Director: Michael Almereyda

Writer: Michael Almereyda, Jordan Harrison

Starring: Geena Davis, Jon Hamm, Tim Robbins, Lois Smith, Stephanie Andujar, Leslie Lyles, Bill Walters, Azumi Tsutsui

Year: 2017

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

Festivals:

Sundance 2017

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