Eighty-six year-old actress Lois Smith will receive an awards push for her portrayal in Marjorie Prime, which opens this weekend via FilmRise, the distributor that picked up the Sundance fest title last spring. Marjorie Prime, which also stars Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, is among a fairly crowded slate of Specialty newcomers this weekend, heading into late summer. Brett Gelman, Judy Greer and Michael Cera star in Lemon from Magnolia Pictures, a dark comedy that also debuted at Sundance. The festival was also the launch pad for Fox Searchlight’s Patti Cake$, opening in over a half-dozen cities today before moving to several hundred in the coming weeks. And Abramorama is opening its latest music doc, Sidemen: Long Road to Glory, in New York this week followed by two dozen runs by Labor Day weekend.
Director-writer: Michael Almereyda
Writer: Jordan Harrison (play)
Cast: Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, Tim Robbins, Hannah Gross, Stephanie Andujar
Set in the near-ish future, Michael Almereyda’s sci-fi pic Marjorie Prime is based on Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated play exploring memory, identity, love and loss. The film, which won the Sundance Film Festival’s Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Feature Film Prize, will bring an Awards push for the title star, the 86-year-old Lois Smith, who starred in Elia Kazan’s East of Eden opposite James Dean in 1955.
In this film, Smith plays Marjorie, who spends her final, ailing days with a computerized version of her deceased husband. With the intent to recount their life together, Marjorie’s “Prime” relies on the information from her and her kin to develop a more complex understanding of his history. As their interactions deepen, the family begins to develop ever diverging accounts of their lives, drawn into reconstructing the often painful past.
Uri Singer produced Michael Almereyda’s 2015 film Experimenter. While screening the title at the Beijing Film Festival, Almereyda told Singer he had seen the play Marjorie Prime.
“Michael wrote the script adaptation over three months,” said Singer. “Michael allowed everyone to read it, [including] Jordan Harrison who gave his approval. Michael also made a ‘look book,’ which showed his vision. That sealed the deal for me. I also saw how thoroughly he worked during Experimenter.”
Smith had played Marjorie in Los Angeles and was in rehearsals for the stage version in New York as shooting began, juggling her schedule between the movie locations in Long Island and New York City. Jon Hamm took to the script, joining the project, while Geena Davis and Tim Robbins also boarded all within a two-week period.
“The pieces were coming together, but we had one challenge,” explained Singer. “The initial script called for a location in a glass house in upstate New York, but then Ex Machina came out and it had the same kind of setting, so in order to separate [our film] from that, we looked for a place on the beach.” The film shot over 21 days in late 2015.
The production found a house in the Hamptons as the primary location. The crew had to juggle their schedule to accommodate Smith’s obligations with the theater rehearsals for Marjorie Prime. Though the schedule was a heavy one, Singer said Smith rose to the occasion. “Lois did not behave her age,” he said. “Though she was 86, she was up before everyone, knew her lines and was as young as anyone can expect. At one point, she had to swim in the pool, but the heater wasn’t working. But she did it.”
FilmRise picked up the title in March. The distributor will open Marjorie Prime in one theater each in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco this weekend, followed by a national roll-out.