The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Stephen King's A Good Marriage

There have been literally dozens of movies based on the works of Stephen King. The author has heartily approved some of them, including The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, and been highly critical of others, such as Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Of course, when King has personally brought his own stories to the big screen, it hasn't always worked out for the best, as Maximum Overdrive and Cat's Eye can attest. Stephen King's A Good Marriage, based on a story from Full Dark, No Stars, is the first feature film screenplay he has adapted from one of his own books in 25 years. (The last one was 1989's Pet Semetary.) It's also one of the worst movies yet to be inspired by his literary works.

Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia play Darcy and Bob, a couple celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. Their marriage is strong and healthy. Or at least it seems that way. Darcy's world gets shaken to the core after making the shocking discovery that Bob is a serial killer who's responsible for the brutal murders of numerous women. Bob finds out that she's uncovered his secret and talks her into keeping quiet, blaming it on another aspect of his personality that he calls “Beadie.” Beadie is the killer, Bob is the loving husband, he claims. Darcy knows that turning him in will have dire repercussions. Bob will go to jail. Her business will take a hit. Their friends will think she knew. It will ruin the upcoming wedding of their daughter, Petra (The Cabin in the Woods' Kristen Connolly). Figuring no good will come of calling the cops, she vows to look past his violent deeds. This proves easier said than done.

Stephen King's A Good Marriage (and yes, that's the official title) has a brilliantly horrific premise: What if someone you deeply loved and built a long, happy life with turned out to be a murderer? The whole story is about how Darcy tries to reconcile the man she married with the knowledge that he's capable of cold-blooded killing. Thematically, King is exploring how difficult it can be to throw away your life with someone. Murder is a substitute for a lot of things that can test a marriage, including infidelity, drug/alcohol abuse, etc. If you've been married a long time, and you think you're happy, one shocking revelation doesn't necessarily change how you feel about your spouse, even if it does massively upset you. This is even more true when factors like jobs and children are in the mix.

In print, there's a lot of room to explore the interior monologue of a character like Darcy, so that we know what she's thinking and how she's rationalizing her decision to stay with her husband in spite of his misdeeds. King is unable to find ways to accomplish this in his screenplay, though, meaning that the film lacks the kind of character development that might really engage a viewer. Darcy seems aggrieved, and she appears in deep thought quite a bit, yet we never know in much detail what she's thinking. The way to accomplish interior monologue onscreen is to make it exterior, to have the character talk about the problem to other characters. Darcy keeps to herself, so there's no viable way to dramatize her thinking. King's screenplay therefore over-relies on nightmare sequences, which come off as gimmicky and, by the third time, highly repetitive. Depicting someone's cognitive dissonance visually is very difficult. On the page, this is probably a great story. It is not, however, one well-suited to a visual medium such as film.

Compounding the problem is that director Peter Askin's point-and-shoot style is incredibly flat. There's nothing going on visually to create suspense or tension. Askin, whose most notable credit is the forgotten 2000 comedy Company Man, displays zero sense of acumen behind the camera. Stephen King's A Good Marriage doesn't even seem to realize it's a horror film, so lethargic and bland is it. The pacing is slow, too, which makes the 102-minute running time feel unending.

The failure of this movie is not the fault of the actors, who do what they can with underdeveloped material. Joan Allen can hit home runs when given a great script. She's one of our best working actresses. King and Askin don't give her enough to do, and at times she seems a bit lost as she struggles to convey Darcy's inner turmoil. At least she gets one really good scene near the end, opposite Stephen Lang (Avatar), playing a mystery man who keeps popping up.

Stephen King's A Good Marriage simply isn't movie material. Or maybe it could have been, with a more nuanced screenwriter to adapt it. Where is Frank Darabont when King needs him? As such, it's a major disappointment - a dull, lifeless chiller that botches a rather brilliant premise.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: Stephen King's A Good Marriage is in theaters and also available on-demand October 3.

Stephen King's A Good Marriage is rated R for violence/disturbing images, some sexuality and language. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.

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