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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for an African-American sonnet variant called a Bop, with a particular line arrangement and repetition. Mine focuses on the themes of hope and despair found in a very strangely titled film.)


I fear life was always regret for the sad misanthropes:
A flurry of chances, a cavalcade of open doors,
A sunrise of rapt opportunities youth had distilled,
Until an incurious world put an end to their hopes,
Disbanded the chances and slammed likely doors by the scores
And made them to watch the sun set on a day unfulfilled.

For life, pain and all, is a terrible thing to resent.

They laugh, or belittle if laughter is too much to ask,
At promising youths with their sunrises yet to unveil.
They fancy they know, because they were not up to the task,
That all of mankind has the similar fortune to fail.
Perhaps it’s a comfort to slander the world as a whole,
Reminding themselves they’re but some of its victimized brood,
But how they do rage at success that was always their goal,
Reminded that all do not share their embittering mood.

For life, pain and all, is a terrible thing to resent.

A crack in the concrete will leave the slab broken enough,
But when a seed forces its shoot through the cleft to the sun,
The stone may object to the flower that rose from its pain.
But stones will be stones, their priorities wretched and rough;
The flower, however, can see from the vantage it’s won
A world so much brighter than any the stone could attain.

For life, pain and all, is a terrible thing to resent.

MPAA rating: PG (for occasional profanity)

Yes, that is the actual name of this movie. And no, it’s not some cheesy B-movie, but rather a layered look at a dysfunctional family, an extremely bitter mother (Joanne Woodward), her older daughter Ruth (Roberta Wallach, daughter of Eli Wallach), and the younger Matilda (Nell Potts). The title even makes surprising sense, deriving from the meaningful science project Matilda performs throughout the film, but it’s still quite a mouthful.

Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Marigolds was the third film directed by Paul Newman, who cast his wife Woodward and their daughter (Nell Potts) opposite each other. Newman himself actually said that he considered this to be his wife’s best performance, and I can see why. The role of Beatrice Hunsdorfer is not one to enjoy as much as endure. As a widow and single mother beset by poverty she can’t escape, she’s intensely resentful toward everyone and everything and isn’t afraid to complain at every opportunity, even calling in to a radio show to complain when no one else is around to hear her. She’s a sour and broken woman with every reaction being the worst possible kind, and even her attempts at being pleasant or comforting come off as obnoxious and insincere.

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As prominent as she is in the story, it’s not so much about Beatrice as much as what kind of children such a person can raise. Ruth is spiteful and petulant, not unlike her mother, while young Matilda is quiet and intelligent, caught in the middle of an unhappy family atmosphere. While the acting is tremendous throughout, except maybe for a few of Woodward’s more strained moments, Nell Potts is the one worth connecting with, a compelling eye of sympathy in the middle of a storm of indignation. What she goes through is liable to break your heart, especially with how she responds to it.

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds may have one of those “what-were-they-thinking” titles, but there’s something profound to be gleaned from how its noxious mother-daughter relationship shapes Ruth and Matilda in different ways. Woodward plays a wholly unlikable character but still a complex one, a mother who can show concern for her daughter’s wellbeing while letting her own insecurities wreck that goal. The realism and not-entirely-tragic message make this film more than just an eccentric title.

Best line: (Beatrice, to Matilda) “Science, huh? Well, you tell Mr. Goodman there’s a lot of work to be done around here, so he’d better not count on you spending your days with half-life. Tell him if he wants to find out about half-life, he can come and ask me; I’m the original half-life. I’ve got one daughter with half a mind, the other who’s half a test tube, a house half-full of rabbit crap and half a corpse. That’s a half-life, all right.”


Rank: Honorable Mention


© 2017 S.G. Liput
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