Bob Rafelson’s The King of Marvin Gardens just didn’t work for me. As much as I like 70s American film, even its second-rate films, King of Marvin Gardens just fell flat. Jack Nicholson plays a depressed radio DJ telling depressing late-night stories to New York audiences, presumably also depressed. Bruce Dern is his huckster two-bit con man brother who is in a dysfunctional relationship with Ellen Burstyn as well as Burstyn’s own step-daughter Julia Anne Robinson. Dern convinces Jack to come to Atlantic City to get on this property deal where he’s going to buy an island in Hawaii and turn it into resorts. Of course the loudmouth Dern doesn’t have the money. Nicholson sees this and of course Dern’s underworld connections sees this. It all goes awry in fairly predictable ways.
That’s all fine. But there are too many scenes in this film that just don’t compute. Why are Nicholson and Dern riding on the Atlantic City beach in one random scene? Why are people burning all their possessions on the beach? Even the climatic scene is just kind of out of nowhere because while you get that Dern is a jerk and Burstyn’s a mess, her actions haven’t had the necessary buildup to pay off. The inner angst of these characters just isn’t close to compelling as that of Rafelson’s previous masterpiece, Five Easy Pieces.
All in all, a pretty disappointing film. And one that I think is quite overrated due to its cast. Mark Le Fanu has quite a different take and he likes it much more, yet after reading it, I am completely unconvinced that the film works.