The King of Marvin Gardens


The King of Marvin Gardens

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.



Total Count: 28


Audience Score

User Ratings: 1,945
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Movie Info

Dreams die hard in wintry Atlantic City in Bob Rafelson's downbeat character drama. Depressive deejay David Staebler (Jack Nicholson) tends to his grandfather as he philosophizes on late-night Philadelphia talk radio. When his huckster older brother Jason (Bruce Dern) calls out of the blue one day, David travels to Atlantic City to see what his latest easy money scheme is. Along with his former beauty queen companion Sally (Ellen Burstyn) and her pretty stepdaughter Jessica (Julia Anne Robinson), Jason plans to open a resort on a small Hawaiian island, insisting to an initially skeptical David that the deal is as good as done. David plays along but, as he learns the reality of the situation, tries to talk some sense into Jason. Jason and his women will have none of it, leading to a tragic lesson about the cost of superficial values like beauty and wealth, and the limits of brotherly love. Rafelson's follow-up to his 1970 hit Five Easy Pieces once again questions American myths of success, with one brother unwilling to come to earth to realize his dreams and the other unable to do much beyond talk about his inertia to an unseen radio audience. With Five Easy Pieces star Nicholson as the introverted lead, and impressive cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs, The King of Marvin Gardens had the makings of another Hollywood New Wave hit. The response, however, was not what stumbling BBS Productions hoped, as Columbia barely supported the film and 1972 audiences were not as responsive to Rafelson's second exploration of contemporary alienation. The King of Marvin Gardens' artful depiction of disillusionment roots it firmly in the 1970s Hollywood art cinema, and its failure became one more sign of that cycle's popular limits.

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Critic Reviews for The King of Marvin Gardens

All Critics (28) | Top Critics (8)

Audience Reviews for The King of Marvin Gardens

  • Oct 21, 2011
    Ellen Burstyn is crazy (as usual)
    Graham J Super Reviewer
  • Mar 13, 2011
    Easily one of the most overlooked movies of the 70s. This has such a brave finale that completely changes the entire plot, character motives and mood of the movie. Bob Rafelson takes a story about two estranged brothers and turns it into something so much more engaging and memorable. Knowing Jack Nicolson, it's almost bizarre not to see him have multiple freak outs in a movie, especially during his 70s era of acting. He plays a really introspective and reserved character that honestly ends up being just as admirable as his more famous ones. Who really does end up completely dominating the movie is a completely unsuspecting Ellen Burstyn. When you think of character development, there is no better example than her in this movie. To see her go from a seemingly jolly and upbeat person into a train wreck of doom is an event you can't miss. This has all the great cinematography and direction that Bob Rafelson had with Five Easy Pieces, but this is a completely different take on America.
    Conner R Super Reviewer
  • Sep 05, 2010
    A very deep, intense, dramatic movie with a great story and brilliant actors. I loved this movie, and I highly recommend it.
    Aj V Super Reviewer
  • Nov 22, 2006
    The King of Marvin Gardens is a seriously underrated gem from an era where Jack Nicholson was at his peak. Between Bob Fafelson's direction and the entire cast's performances (especially Ellen Burstyn in an increasingly batshit crazy turn as a fading glamour queen) its almost impossible to see why this movie never really got its due. Admittedly there are stretches where The King of Marvin Gardens feels like a fever dream or reading a novel with some of the more important pages torn out but its so worth the ride. Especially for the opening and closing scenes.
    Michael G Super Reviewer

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