Alternately dreary and fascinating, THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS is half of a terrific film, but director Rafelson didn't know which half. After the success of FIVE EASY PIECES, Rafelson attempted to create something as different as possible, but his quest for uniqueness is what did him in.
Nicholson plays David Staebler, a long-winded FM talk jockey on a Philadelphia radio station. Instead of playing records, he waxes on about his brother Jason (Dern) and the things they did as children. He dubs Jason "The King of Marvin Gardens," in reference to the Monopoly board game landmark and
the actual place in Atlantic City. David goes back to Atlantic City to visit Jason, now working for Lewis (Crothers), head of a black crime syndicate.
Jason is in jail on a "grand theft auto" charge and is released on bail. He and David have a happy reunion, and Jason introduces his baby brother to Sally (Burstyn), a fading ex-beauty queen, and her stepdaughter (Robinson). Jason tells David of his pipe dream to buy a small island near Hawaii and
the others, humoring him, help him stage a beauty contest spoof. Things get hairy when David realizes Jason intends to use Lewis' money to buy his dream island.
Much of the film has been deliberately confused (or so it seems) by Rafelson and Brackman in order to flatten the crease between fantasy and reality. For all its faults, THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS has some merit and many of the individual scenes linger in the memory. It appeared to be a melange of
the 1960s mentality of FIVE EASY PIECES with a 1940s-type plot of irony and surprise. The weakest part of the film was the repetitious, indulgent dialogue credited to Brackman, but one wonders how much of that was in the script and how much Rafelson and his actors improvised. The film is a fairly
daring if rather pretentious attempt at originality, but this type of intimate narrative generally requires that one be given the pleasure of caring about the characters. leave a comment