Play It as It Lays (film)

Play It as It Lays is a 1972 American drama film directed by Frank Perry and written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, based on the novel of the same name by Didion. The film stars Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins, who previously starred together in the 1968 film Pretty Poison.

Play It as It Lays
Directed byFrank Perry
Produced byFrank Perry
Dominick Dunne
Screenplay byJoan Didion
John Gregory Dunne
Based onPlay It as It Lays
by Joan Didion
StarringTuesday Weld
Anthony Perkins
CinematographyJordan Cronenweth
Edited bySidney Katz
F.P. Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • October 19, 1972 (1972-10-19)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$1 million[1]


Former model Maria Wyeth Lang, who comes from a Nevada town with a population of 28, is now a successful actress. But she is unhappily married to, and separated from, temperamental producer Carter Lang and also chronically depressed and institutionalized.

Reflecting back on what brought her here, Maria recalls driving around Los Angeles in her yellow Chevrolet Corvette and spending time with her closest friend, B.Z. Mendenhall, an unhappy man who is gay. Maria has a brain-damaged daughter, Kate, who is being kept in a sanitarium at the insistence of Carter, who resents Maria visiting the girl so frequently. Maria's secret desire is to live somewhere with Kate and find some kind of joy in life together.

Maria has been having an affair with Les Goodwin, a screenwriter. When she tells Carter she is pregnant, he demands she get an abortion. Maria goes to Las Vegas and has a fling with a mob-connected lawyer, Larry Kulik, and later returns to L.A. and has a one-night stand with Johnny Waters, a television star who needs to watch his own show on TV to get in the mood.

Bored and depressed, Maria steals Johnny's car and speeds off. When she is stopped by police, drugs are found in the car and she is placed under arrest. Her spirits at an all-time low, Maria returns to Las Vegas and finds that B.Z. is equally unhappy. When he swallows a handful of pills and washes them down with vodka, rather than call for help, Maria cradles him and watches him die.

Back at her institution, a psychiatrist asks why she keeps on playing, when knowing what 'nothing' (nihilism) means. Maria replies, "Why not?"



Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film four stars. Positive remarks were also expressed for the two leads' performances. Ebert cited, "What makes the movie work so well on this difficult ground is, happily, easy to say: It has been well-written and directed, and Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins are perfectly cast as Maria and her friend B.Z. The material is so thin (and has to be) that the actors have to bring the human texture along with them. They do, and they make us care about characters who have given up caring for themselves."[2]

Molly Haskell of The Village Voice was less enthusiastic, stating that she had "a hard time remembering [the film]".[3]

Vincent Canby of The New York Times found the screenplay and direction "banal", but effused praise for the performances of Weld and Perkins. "The film is beautifully performed by Tuesday Weld as Maria and Anthony Perkins as B.Z., but the whole thing has turned soft," Canby writes.[4]

Critic John Simon wrote Play it as it Lays 'is a very bad movie'.[5]

Tuesday Weld was nominated for a 1972 Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actress in a Drama.


  1. Perry Making Hollywood Film -- His Way By PAUL GARDNER Special to The New York Times. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 10 Feb 1972: 59.
  2. Chicago Sun-Times review
  3. The Village Voice review
  4. The New York Times review
  5. Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Film. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 92.
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