Either, the malleable Jack Nicholson comes off as a bit older than he was at the time to portray a wiley, if not meant for another time, genius who winds up assisting his brother in some business dealings. Watching Dern and Nicholson try to pull off a familial relationship isn’t always the most engaging thing to see, but both are good actors despite any physical dissimilarities.
The behind the scenes moments when all involved are sitting around and discussing personal things or racing down a beach don’t really provide too much enticement to wade through the film in its entirety, but when the Nicholson character gets a chance to verbally out maneuver his brother’s would-be business associates, it ranks as an early career highlight.
Of course, The King of Marvin Gardens as released in 1972 came a few years after both Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. Each of those films allow Nicholson to portray roughly the same character as what’s unloosed during Marvin Gardens. He’s an intelligent guy, but doesn’t have any desire to sit around and be a part of the world’s complacency. In Marvin, Nicholson’s an academic/genius, in Five Easy Pieces, he works in an oil field while still retaining immense talent at the piano and in Easy Rider, Jack’s a wayward attorney who winds up getting his head bashed in.
Head – the Monkee’s attempt to ingratiate themselves to the psych crowd – finds Jack making a brief appearance. And what all of these things have in common is that the actor didn’t seem to have too much space in his heart for normalcy. So, the last decade and change might be a bit confusing to his long time fans. But a dollars a dollar. Would you blame your grandfather for taking a gig to prepare for an eventually retirement? Probably not. It’s too bad, though, that roles like these aren’t gonna be inhabited by Jack anylonger….