Stephen King's A Good Marriage (2014) / Thriller
MPAA Rated: R for violence/disturbing images, some sexuality and language
Running Time: 101 min.
Cast: Joan Allen, Anthony LaPaglia, Stephen Lang, Kristen Connolly
Director: Peter Askin
Screenplay: Stephen King
Review published October 4, 2014
Perhaps most notable for the Stephen King screenplay, his first to be made into a film in 25 years (Pet Sematary), which he adapts from his own short story of the same name from 2010s anthology, "Full Dark, No Stars". Joan Allen (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Upside of Anger) plays Darcy Anderson, a longtime happy housewife to the loving Bob (LaPaglia, Happy Feet), with whom she is celebrating their silver wedding anniversary. New England has been plagued by a rash of killings ostensibly by a killer who leaves notes in the name of "Beadie", so she's on the lookout, when she makes a discovery that has her suspect Bob of committing the murders. Trouble brews when he catches on that she thinks he is the killer, leading to a heightened tension in the once happy household.
Perhaps the biggest problem with A Good Marriage is that Stephen King scripts it. Not that King is a bad writer, of course, but he comes in with too much clout such that a director like Peter Askin (Company Man, Certainty) and a cast of hungry or unknown actors don't dare tamper with it the way they might a script from a less popular source. Some of the dialogue is strained, or peppered with not-so-sly ironies that make conversation feel gimmicky and playing for the audience. If this were a play, and it could very easily have been given there are only two sizable roles, that could be forgiven, but in the course of a dark thriller, it tempers the dourness of the situation too much. We never register the fear of the situation when the dialogue makes it all seem nonchalant.
This also brings to mind why people like King's writing to begin with. It probably isn't for the way he presents dialogue so much as the descriptiveness he brings to the story and themes. As this is a screenplay, all he can do is provide setting and words to speak, and those aren't exactly where he flexes your mental muscles, and the overall film feels average at best. As I often say, thrillers are a director's medium, primarily, and Askin just doesn't know how to use music and image effectively enough to draw you in. And with a so-so King script, there's really nothing here to raise heart rates in viewers.
Not that director Askin is helping any. Certainly, this is a film that could have used the dynamic of a similar film from Alfred Hitchcock, Suspicion. LaPaglia's a fine actor, but it would take someone that more embodies a devil-may-care playboy, like Cary Grant, to pull this dialogue off with any plausibility. Joan Allen looks like she's having a great time just being a lead actress again, and while she's a talent, she is inconsistent in her emoting, often playing frightful scenes as if they are supposed to be comedy. Granted, King's horror works often play out as dark comedies, but there should be moments of genuine terror thrown in, and that's pretty much what A Good Marriage thoroughly lacks. It feels like it's made for basic cable, save for one sex scene and some peppery language thrown in.
Unless you're a Stephen King completist, there's not much that A Good Marriage has to offer, so if you've read this review and you're feeling cold feet, it's best to go with your gut and move on. There's plenty of other cinematic fish in the sea worthy of your time.
©2014 Vince Leo