In honor of Tuesday Weld‘s 76th birthday on 8.27, screenwriter-critic-essayist Kim Morgan re-posted a 2017 New Beverly essay about Frank Perry‘s Play It As It Lays (’72). Except she mainly focused on the film, or rather it’s failure to catch in the way it should have.
Morgan apparently feels the same about Play It As It Lays as I do. It’s a brilliant translation of Joan Didion‘s source novel, and my nominee for the most…I don’t know, curiously arresting film ever made about cold, rotten, corroded Hollywood. Weld’s performance as sad, spaced-out Maria (pronounced Mar-EYE-ah) Wyeth is easily her best ever.
Morgan: “Play It As It Lays floats and swerves and cuts with observations and weirdly timed statements like this throughout, brilliantly matching the fragmented time fame and switching POV of Didion’s novel, while wandering from place to place and person to person with Maria’s depressed but succinct sensitivities.
“It’s often genius-level, and so the fact that Play It As It Lays was poorly to adequately received at the time (though Roger Ebert loved it) seems unduly unjust to me. Many critics thought it very pretty, and Weld and Perkins fantastic (they are), but very empty (it’s not, and it is, precisely the point). Or that Perry was all wrong for Didion (he’s not).
“Didion’s novel has sometimes single-paragraph sentences, terse observations met with deadpan responses, and Perry visualizes her manner stunningly. And he does so as a Perry film, not just a Didion film — this is what happens when another is helming your own work, even if you write the screenplay — you cannot control your narrative once it’s in the eyes of the other beholder.”