Play It as It Lays (1972)

Genres - Drama  |   Run Time - 99 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Play It As It Lays is in most ways a very faithful adaptation of Joan Didion's famous novel -- but therein lies its problem. On the surface Didion's novel seems like a natural for the screen, especially when Didion and her husband co-write the screenplay. After all, the novel is leanly written, with many short chapters and a tendency to jump around which are analogous to film's short scenes and cutting. But the book's strength lies not in its plot and structure, but in the hypnotic power of Didion's prose. Without the underlying motivations, thoughts and feelings, whether explicitly stated or merely hinted at, that fill the book, one is left with a trite story, the message of which is incredibly simpleminded. On screen, the characters are incredibly underwritten and diffiult to care about, the dialogue is stilted and often downright pretentious and the story is tiresome and irritating. Director Frank Perry and cinematographer Jordan S. Cronenweth, along with visual consultant Roy Lichtenstein, give the film an interesting look, but that only doesn't illuminate the characters and ultimately serves only to heighten how unfocused and disjointed Lays is. Tuesday Weld does a stellar job working with this material, taking a bunch of clich├ęs and shopworn situations and managing to create a living, breathing woman that periodically brings the film to life. Anthony Perkins is also quite good in a thankless role, and he and Weld make the suicide scene into something special. But most often, Lays just lays there, a dull, sometimes suffocating experience that comes to life only fitfully.