Stephen King’s A Good Marriage projects a weird sense of Teflon flimsiness that’s familiar to King adaptations (particularly the TV productions). The ironies in the dialogue are too arch and obvious, and the sets are under-populated and un-lived-in to the point that you’re sometimes aware of the actors hitting their marks within the frame. All that you’re really given to chew on are the particularities of the high concept, which are often beside the point in King’s best stories, as they derive their force from the author’s gift for dramatizing the internal thoughts of the besieged American middle class. Few filmmakers have managed to honor the author’s perceptive sense of empathy, and director Peter Akin, unfortunately, is no exception.
A Good Marriage is similar to one of King’s “diary of an American housewife” stories, in the vein of Delores Claiborne or Lisey’s Story, which follow women who grapple with a life spent in their very flawed men’s shadow. Darcy (Joan Allen) is the affluent wife of Bob (Anthony LaPaglia), a successful accountant with an offhand (and arbitrarily introduced) interest in rare pennies. Soon after celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary with their friends and grown children, Darcy discovers that Bob is “Beadie,” a serial killer who rapes and kills women along the East Coast, mailing their driver’s licenses to the authorities as a means of ghoulish boasting. Bob almost immediately discerns Darcy’s discovery, and what follows is a prolonged game of cat and mouse that’s reminiscent of satirical domestic thrillers like The Stepfather and The Bridesmaid.
In theory, that is. Movies like this depend on filmmakers who can walk a very fine tightrope, showing you a banal surface that’s forebodingly charged with emotional suppression. All we get in A Good Marriage is the banal surface. We’re never really invited into Darcy’s evolving mindset as her domestic life is revealed to mask a sick joke, and, while King’s script often traffics in literal-minded signifiers, that failing primarily rests with Allen, who gives the kind of dull, forgettable, technically proficient performance that’s characterized much of her career. Darcy’s so inscrutable that she scans as callous, which has the strange effect of shifting your sympathies to Bob, who at least manages a glib, bad-horror-movie satisfaction with his work. LaPaglia overdoes Bob’s smugness, and he’s awfully lightweight and inconsequential for a villain, but he occasionally lands a few stingers, such as inflicting a simple line, “I get that,” with an offhand faux-sincerity that amusingly speaks to marriage as a series of rituals that are marked by an ever-escalating meaninglessness. The film is watchable in a plodding one-thing-after-another sort of way, but it could have used far more of King’s mordant humor, which might have imbued the metaphorical autumnal proceedings with a much-needed jolt of pop anarchy, or even pathos.