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February 19, 2007

Play It As It Lays, 1972

play_it.gifSomething of a prelude to David Lynch's explorations into the dark side of tinsel town (and in particular, the intersecting alternate realities of his sprawling metafilm Inland Empire), Frank Perry's Play It As It Lays is a stark, fragmented, and disjointed, but instinctually cohesive, occasionally luminous (and humorous), and inevitably heartbreaking adaptation of Joan Didion's acclaimed novel on Hollywood starlet, Maria Wyeth's (Tuesday Weld) gradual descent into madness and self-destruction following the dissolution of her marriage to influential filmmaker (and erstwhile Svengali), Carter Lang (Adam Roarke) - an emotional rupture that was perhaps catalyzed by their daughter's commitment to a sanitarium for behavioral problems near the completion of their latest collaboration, a highly controversial autofiction film in which he elicited a raw and soul-baring performance from his increasingly vulnerable and fragile wife by incorporating autobiographical elements culled from her tumultuous and impoverished childhood. The film opens to an angular shot of Maria leisurely walking through the footpath of a meticulously manicured garden, symmetrically - and diminutively - framed by a pair of tall, majestic evergreens. This double entendred image of nature and construction, openness and constriction serves as a recurring metaphor into the unsustainable paradox of Maria's vacuous life of excess and profound isolation - a sense of pervasive estrangement and entrenched hopelessness that she has learned to subsume through a string of meaningless affairs, aimless road trips to nowhere, and intimate philosophical conversations (that inevitably lead to the unarticulated silence of mutual resignation) with Carter's closeted producer, B.Z. (Anthony Perkins), whose transparent double life reflects his own irreconcilable spiritual ambiguity. Evoking the demoralizing ennui of industrialized dehumanization (or, in this case, the manufactured dream world of Hollywood) of Michelangelo Antonioni's The Red Desert fused with the asequential, fractured recursion of inescapable, haunted memories that pervade Alain Resnais' Je t'aime, je t'aime, Play It As It Lays is a caustic, disorienting, and ultimately bracing exposition into the profoundly isolating process of role rejection, the human search for meaning, and self-discovery.

Posted by acquarello on Feb 19, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Film Comment Selects


John Gregory Dunne did not write Play It As It Lays, the Novel. Joan Didion did it all by herself. She was a grown woman at the time and didn't need any help.

Posted by: Gavin Depitricho on Feb 22, 2007 10:47 AM | Permalink

Well, the joint attribution didn't have anything to with being grown enough to write a book by herself as much as it was that I thought Perry attributed it to both her and Dunne in the film. In hindsight, it was probably a reference to their collaboration on the screenplay for the film.

Thanks for pointing that out. I've corrected the sentence.

Posted by: acquarello on Feb 22, 2007 10:55 AM | Permalink

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