Stephen King's A Good Marriage (2014)

NOVEMBER 21, 2014

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: ONLINE (SCREENER)

A couple months back I got a press release for Stephen King's A Good Marriage that included specific instructions not to refer to the movie as simply "A Good Marriage". It HAD to have the "Stephen King's" as part of the title, which is amusing because he didn't direct it and even Carpenter doesn't seem to mind if you refer to, say, John Carpenter's Vampires as Vampires (on the flipside, Wes Craven refers to New Nightmare as "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" when discussing it). Not sure why he's so possessive about this particular movie, but I assume it has something to do with the fact that it's the first time he's adapted one of his stories for a theatrical feature since Pet Sematary*, which is kind of a big deal. Still, I hope anyone who broke this rule wasn't too harshly punished.

Anyway, it's a pretty good little thriller, more or less overcoming a pretty big hurdle: the original short story doesn't exactly cry out for adaptation. Maybe if there was another season of Nightmares & Dreamscapes it'd make for a good premiere episode (especially if King adapted again, to help promote it), but if I was in charge of deciding which of his stories get turned into movies, it wouldn't be one I'd focus on, or even consider at all. It's a pretty simple tale of a woman finding out that her husband is a serial killer, and (spoilers ahead) after sort of dealing with it for a while, she decides to kill him and make it look like an accident. And that's about it. There's a mini-climax in which it seems she might get in trouble for what she did when a cop comes snooping around, but that blows over. It's all good.

If I had to guess, the drive to make this into a movie was likely "Let's get two good actors in the roles and let them have some fun." In that case, the film is a resounding success; Joan Allen and Anthony LaPaglia are as good as they've been in years, with LaPaglia in particular displaying a gift for King's folksy wordplay (his delivery of "snoots", referring to a couple of bitchy girls, is pretty perfect). The most delightful thing about the story is how Allen's character seemingly treats his serial killer habit the same way a wife might deal with her husband having an affair or hiding a gambling problem - she's just kind of pissed off at him and makes him swear not to do it again. And in turn, LaPaglia is the apologetic husband who tries to move past it; he compliments her dress for their daughter's wedding, continues to gently nag her about her candy addiction by leaving her notes inside of her sweets stash, etc. The scene where he casually confesses his crimes (as he gets ready for, and then into, bed) is a dry/dark comic masterpiece, and both of them are perfect. You can imagine that the idea of seeing this one scene play out on-screen was the impetus for making a movie in the first place, with King just embellishing other things from his story in order to make it feature length.

So the daughter's wedding, a long way off in the story and thus never much of a plot point, becomes a full sequence. The candy habit that is mentioned once or twice becomes a running gag, with Darcy finding one final note long after he's gone. And the cop that investigates him at the end almost dies himself, doubling his runtime in the narrative as she goes to visit him at the hospital. The old Corman/Poe movies often added the first two acts in order to lead up to where Poe's stories usually began; this one basically adds a middle to what is otherwise a pretty straight adaptation. The straight up changes King made are minor (the box Bob hides evidence in was a gift from his wife in the story, but in the movie it was a craft from his daughter, which is way better), but if he were to film the story as written it'd only be about 50 minutes long. So the wedding and that other stuff fills in the gap, which adds to the appeal in a way. In the story there's only a bit of time in between her finding out and her doing something about it, but here we get to enjoy the idea that she could forgive him and treat it as a road bump in their, ahem, good marriage.

And that's the other thing I liked (at this point I should explain I only read the story AFTER I watched the movie) - the movie avoids the expected cliches and beats. She discovers evidence that he's a killer pretty early on, but rather than go through the whole thing of having her investigate, or him lie, he just admits it instantly. The same thing goes for the rest of the narrative; the daughter is getting married, and I suspected "OK so maybe the movie will build up to the wedding where it all come out and there will be a big blowout", but no - no sooner did I finish the thought than did the wedding occur without incident. Also, we meet Stephen Lang in the opening scene and then he disappears, so I had a feeling that there would be a dumb twist where it turns out HE was the killer and LaPaglia was just covering for him (and thus she killed her husband for nothing), but no, he's the cop investigating "Beadie" (the nickname for the serial killer). It doesn't go many places (outside of a couple of quick nightmare moments, the movie has almost no on-screen violence, no chase scenes, etc), but the ones it does go aren't the ones you'd expect from its Lifetime-y plot setup.

However I do feel kind of icky after reading the story, because King admits that he was inspired by the BTK Killer, which drastically devalues the comedic appeal of the movie. The story has a few smirk-worthy moments, but without seeing LaPaglia's bemused expression as he casually admits his crimes to his wife (it's the same expression I use when scolding my own wife for forgetting how to operate the universal remote, which I bought specifically to make the process of watching TV much easier for her) it doesn't come across as particularly FUNNY. To be fair, the murders occurred before I was even born and there are things that occurred in the past couple years that people make much worse "jokes" about, but it still kinda bothered me. Maybe it's the dad gene (two of BTK's victims were children) making me over sensitive again, I dunno. So, just for the record, possible caveat.

The movie got a brief theatrical release, but I can't imagine it was very successful - this is an "at home" movie if there ever was one. It's nothing spectacular, and wouldn't rank in the top 15 King adaptations (there have been at least 40) or anything, but it charmed me in an odd way, and will probably play best to married folks that can readily appreciate the humor in the concept. It's almost a stretch to call it a thriller (and it's certainly not a typical horror movie; King's name alone is the only reason I'm even bothering to write about it here), but it's got two great performances and a unique concept, making it a win in my book despite the queasiness about the approach.

What say you?

*Since someone won't pay attention to my wording and say I'm wrong: Sleepwalkers was an original screenplay, not adapted from anything he ever published. And the other things he wrote (like The Shining mini-series) were television productions, not theatrical features.

1 comment:

  1. This is a tangent, but I suspect that Wes Craven is more particular about the use of the possessory credit on New Nightmare because he had a conflict with the Director's Guild over that film. If I recall correctly, the DGA wasn't happy that (since it's a metatextual film without opening titles) the first credited authorship in the movie is a shot of Craven's screenplay.

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