Movies »King of Marvin Gardens

king of marvin gardensAlmost everyone knows someone crazy. Not movie crazy, but crazy for real. And even if you don't, a friend or family member has undoubtedly relayed stories that made your head spin. It might just be me, but I'm utterly fascinated by these tales and have gathered up a good many whoppers over the years.

King of Marvin Gardens is a lot like taking a weekend trip down to Atlantic City to hang out with the characters from some of those stories–and who better to play on-the-fringe weirdos than Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn, both of whom are so comfortable in their roles as con artist and manic depressive, it's eerie.

Good ole Dernsy plays Jason Staebler, older brother of depressed philosopher David Staebler (Jack Nicholson, in a rare, understated performance). Jason, on the other hand, is a man with a plan, constantly juggling a dozen harebrained schemes and “sure things” that are always, always anything but. After a plan to become international culinary ambassadors collapsed (it's just vaguely touched upon, but it's easy to understand why it didn't pan out), Jason's gotten into the hotel business, and he'd love nothing more than to involve his brother in a new development deal–if only he wasn't out on bail with an unregistered gun and no sense of reality.

Nicholson comes to Atlantic City to bail him out and ends up briefly flirting with the delusional fantasy world his charismatic brother perpetually weaves. Also along for the ride are Sally and Jessica, Jason's girlfriend and “secretary”, whose relationship is more complex than it first appears. “Scat Man” Crothers, clairvoyant chef Dick Hallorann in another big Nicholson hit (The Shining), also appears.

It might be difficult viewing for some; there's little in way of plot (if you thought that Rafelson's masterful Five Easy Pieces was a little meandering, this could be tough going), and the characters are raw and, initially, pretty hard to relate to; you'll spend the beginning of the movie just trying to make sense of it all–their motives, their relationships, their intentions–until you realize that they're not going to act the way that people in movies usually do. The characters are far more realistic than that.

I also recommend using subtitles. The audio on the DVD transfer is a bit tough and you don't want to miss a word of their fascinating babble.

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Posted on June 16, 2008

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