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USA 1972
Directed by
Bob Rafelson
103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

King Of Marvin Gardens, The

Bob Rafelson started out as a producer of The Monkees TV show and his first two feature films, Head (1968) and Five Easy Pieces (1970) were both collaborations with business partner Jack Nicholson as members of the BBS production house (the third member was Bert Schneider). There’s a fair amount of eccentricity in their work and with The King of Marvin Gardens it has come home to roost.

It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that TKoMG is based on a stage play as it has a heightened, abstracted, re-iterative quality that one might find quite effective in the theatre context but as far as I know it is not (it was co-authored by Rafelson with Jacob Brackman).

Nicholson plays a late-night radio “personality”, a kind of existentialist Garrison Keillor (see Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion if you don’t know what I mean) who relates stories from his imaginary family history, presumably to lonely insomniacs, over the airwaves. One day he gets a call from his hustler brother Jason (Bruce Dern) and gets involved in a scheme to buy an island near Hawaii and develop it into a resort. Jason is holed up in run-down Atlantic City with a floozy (Ellen Burstyn) and her stepdaughter (Julia Anne Robinson, who, not surprisingly hailed from Twin Falls, Idaho in the only movie she ever made) and trying to broker the deal while pulling his life together.

If David Mamet had written the script to this film it might have had a certain hypnotic quality but as its stands (or falls) it’s a disjointed affair that works best when it is surreal (a fake talent quest show in an empty theatre, a meeting between the brothers on horseback etc) and makes little sense when it’s not, as if it is missing large chunks of narrative were missing that might make the characters' behaviour comprehensible. 

One can’t really say the film is a failure because it’s so hard to see what the intention was but on the other hand for the same reason it’s obviously not a success.




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