By Harriet Kaplan
Science fiction, mystery, technology and drama add up to an intriguing, thoughtful and contemplative mix ruminating on Alzheimer’s disease, memories, aging, fractured family dynamics, disappointment and some closure in the finely acted Majorie Prime.
This unique movie is adapted from Jordan Harrison’s well-received 2015 off-Broadway play of the same name by director Michael Almereyda. The film is considered a chamber piece but it has cinematic flourishes throughout.
The chatty, dialogue heavy nature of the film can be tedious at times but it’s a necessary and important device to flesh out the character’s lives and background providing an invaluable insight and background. The payoff is rich and rewarding as the film’s storyline grows and becomes more complex.
The movie centers around actress Lois Smith, who subtly and movingly portrays, the ailing 86-year-old octogenarian Majorie. Majorie’s Tess, her only adult, middle-aged daughter is played by Geena Davis and her husband Jon is Tim Robbins. Majorie spends her final, ailing days with a prime, a holographic companion, a computerized version of her deceased husband who appears as a younger version of her late husband played by Jon Hamm. Hamm is the executive producer of Majorie Prime. Jon purchased the companion. Walter is fed information and learns to respond to Majorie’s questions, and because of the questions she asks him, Walter appears younger and more handsome as in “his prime.” Walter is like a therapist to Majorie helping her recollect her memories. Though Majorie struggles with dementia, she has moments of lucidity and clarity sometime doubting some of the information is fed and shared with her. Lois Smith’s Majorie is multi-faceted not a complacent, empty mental vessel.
While Hamm’s portrayal is essential comes of as a bit of blank slate and robotic with some clever, droll and coy moments of dialogue, it serves a purpose as dramatic device, after all he is a hologram. Davis’ portray of Tess, is drawn more with a sharp, emotional edge as Majorie’s bitter daughter. Tim Robbins’ Jon reveals solid and dependable exterior of cheer to bouts of deep inward melancholy.
Walter is not the only “Prime” in this unfolding story that is a gripping psychological journey revealing the divided and conflicting interactions among the family members which deepens as the film progresses. Their individual heartbreaking pasts is revealed as characters try to resolve their lingering, haunting issues that plague them.