“You notice how it’s Monopoly out there?”
A radio d.j. (Jack Nicholson) visits his petty-gangster brother (Bruce Dern) in Atlantic City, where he learns about Dern’s unrealistic plan to “get-rich-quick” by buying property in Hawaii.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Bob Rafelson Films
- Bruce Dern Films
- Ellen Burstyn Films
- Gangsters and Criminals
- Get Rich Quick
- Jack Nicholson Films
- Love Triangle
In his follow-up to Five Easy Pieces (1970), director Bob Rafelson presents a similarly no-holds-barred look at family relations and broken dreams in America. Unfortunately, however, Marvin Gardens comes across as too relentlessly bleak for its own good — while Five Easy Pieces had many classic moments of humor interspersed with its more serious themes (remember the cafe scene?), this film seems hell-bent on leading us towards its tragic conclusion, without providing much relief along the way. On the other hand, it does possess a number of redeeming features. The performances are uniformly excellent — especially by the always-reliable Dern, and by Ellen Burnstyn as his jealous aging girlfriend. Additionally, Rafelson makes effective use of Atlantic City’s gloomy seaside ambiance; and the connections between Dern’s wild dreams (he hopes to buy a hotel) and Monopoly are subtle enough to be clever rather than cloying. Ultimately, however, this remains a ceaselessly downbeat tale, one which is probably not for every taste.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Bruce Dern as Nicholson’s “big-dreaming” brother
- Ellen Burstyn’s stand-out performance as Dern’s middle-aged lover
No. While it’s considered an underrated classic by many, it’s ultimately not must-see viewing.