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.
by Lucia Bozzola synopsis