It’s a question as old as time, or at least as old as cinema: What is the best way to adapt a written story for the screen? In the past century, many have fallen on this rocky road, getting knocked off course in the potholes of reducing plots to 90 minutes or casting characters in flesh-and-blood form. So given the scope of the struggle, there can be a certain level of pitying empathy in watching a film production so utterly fail at bringing a novel to life. But in the case of Peter Askin’s A Good Marriage, based on the novella by Stephen King, mustering such generosity requires far too much effort.
A Good Marriage begins with a man stalking a woman on a rainy night, set to the sounds of Francis Thompson’s late-19th century poem “The Hound Of Heaven” read in voice-over. So begins the film’s misguided attempts to toy with genre (here film noir, with the black-and-white coloring and slick wet streets) and an overall chunkiness that only becomes more pronounced as the so-called thriller progresses. Following this prelude, the movie jarringly jumps into a suburban banquet hall, where Darcy (Joan Allen) and Bob (Anthony LaPaglia) are celebrating their silver wedding anniversary. Mid-fete, a guest informs Darcy a local serial killer has struck again. After this unsubtle hint has been dropped, Darcy goes on with her life, though Bob’s obsessive and controlling habits begin to take on a new light. Then, one night when Bob is away on business, Darcy stumbles upon her husband’s porn collection. A common-enough domestic drama, but stashed beneath the flesh mags are the IDs of the killer’s victims. When Bob returns home, a game of cat-and-mouse begins.
At its most basic level, A Good Marriage concerns the role performance plays in any relationship—the lies that are told in public and private to keep the aura of love alive. But A Good Marriage doesn’t go any further than this broad trope, unable to dig deeper thanks to the distractingly stilted script, written by King himself. In his approach to bringing his own story to the screen, the author gave no consideration for actual performance or humor, valuing his language over all else. Exchanges are often so forced it feels like King might have been aiming to satirize the white-picket-fenced existence his characters are inhabiting, but after the umpteenth incredibly dull conversation between Darcy and her killer husband it just feels like a slog.
With all the leaden dialogue weighing the film down, it’s impossible to care about Darcy’s drama (try as Allen might to bring some depth to her desperate housewife). As for Askin, his approach in bringing the story to the screen does nothing to help matters: Other than a few canted camera angles and misty dream sequences, the overall atmosphere is that of an over-lit TV production. By its conclusion, A Good Marriage doesn’t give a definitive answer to its titular topic, but it does make clear what makes a bad movie.