J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Stephen King’s A Good Marriage: Till Death . . .

Frankly, you probably wouldn’t want to see Stephen King’s idea of a bad marriage. For twenty-five years, Bob and Darcy Anderson’s union has indeed been pretty strong. Then she started to realize she married a coin collecting accountant from Maine. Her suspicion the loyal hubbie might be a serial killer does not help much either. Pillow talk gets awkward in Stephen King’s A Good Marriage (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Good old Bob Anderson has always been faithful to Darcy and a reliable provider for their now grown children. She always thought his only quirk was his weekend trips scouring estates sales for collectible coins. Then she happens across his secret stash in the garage. Let’s just say there are no Buffalo Head nickels in there. Unfortunately, Mrs. Anderson is terrible at keeping secrets. Almost immediately, Mr. Anderson realizes what happened and promises to reform, but his wife remains highly conflicted and unnerved, for obvious reasons.

Directed by Peter Askin and adapted by King himself, from a short story in Full Dark, No Stars (hence the name in the title, a la Mary Shelly or Bram Stoker), SK’s AGM should be an event for his fans. It is his first screenplay since Pet Cemetery way back in 1989—and it is a pretty good one, but it might be overshadowed by the Rader family controversy. Recently the daughter of the BTK Killer, on whom the “Beattie” serial killer in SK’s AGM is admittedly based, objected to the film on the grounds it is insensitive to her father’s victims. Understandably, King has diplomatically taken exception, especially since none of the victim families have objected.

Let’s not kid ourselves—every serial killer movie is exploitative to some extent, but SK’s AGM is much less so than most. All of Bob Anderson’s foul deeds are scrupulously left off screen. Instead, King’s adaptation is more of an old school claustrophobic thriller, in the tradition of Sorry, Wrong Number. Viewers do have to buy into the premise that Anderson’s closest family remained oblivious to his predatory urges, but evidently that sort of thing happens.

Joan Allen also helps sell it tremendously. Her Darcy Anderson is many things, but she is not a passive victim. In fact, there is a moral ambiguity to her performance that is quite effective. Anthony LaPaglia also hits the exact right notes as “Beattie” Bob. Sure, he is a little off, but only just a little, so it is relatively easy to believe he escaped suspicion for so long. It is not quite Simon Oakland’s eleventh hour cameo in Psycho, but Stephen Lang has some nice moments that come very late in the game.

Thanks to Askin’s strong mechanics and King’s tight plotting, SK’s AGM is a pretty tense little thriller. It is a good film that ought to be considered on its own merits, separate from the current controversies and King’s more supernatural oeuvre. This is a hard week for marriage in cinematic terms, with SK’s AGM, The Blue Room, and Gone Girl all hitting theaters this Friday (10/3), but each one is worth seeing. Recommended for fans of dark psychological thrillers, Stephen King’s A Good Marriage opens in New York at the AMC Empire.

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