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This film took this jaded, tough-to-manipulate moviegoer and reduced him to
a blubbering mass of water. Instead of the usual over-the-top death scene,
the film finds a clever, non-contrived way to end by leaving these characters
at a magical moment of mutual understanding. It is one of the most powerful
endings I've ever seen in a film, and believe me, I've seen thousands. What
I found most remarkable about it was how the film reveals--despite the
sisters' major character differences--how similar they really are. Both
abandon one part of their family to sacrifice for another part--they each
merely take different parts, and that's why Lee's character is not as bad,
selfish or one-dimensional as she first seems. Lee's problem was
understanding love. Despite all her lovers, Lee (Streep) had to learn the
real meaning of love from her spinster sister Bessie (Keaton).
The film is full of irony. One such moment is when Lee, rather tactlessly, says to Bessie that she finally feels as though her life has begun. To which Bessie, who is surely about to die, can only sigh. The greatest irony, of course, is that Lee finds herself at the same juncture she was 20 years prior. Will she choose to sacrifice to care for her sister, just as her sister had chosen to do with her father and aunt? Bessie, in contrast, had come to find that she hadn't "thrown it all away" to care for sick relatives. What first seemed a sacrifice had become transformed, through her own experience, into another valid way of experiencing life. To Lee's perspective, the elders where millstones, hindrances, inconveniences robbed of their humanity--almost the antithesis of life. Yet, behind the eccentricities of Aunt Ruth (Verdon) and other-worldly silence of her chronically ill father Marvin (Cronyn), she had found, and reveled in, their uniquness, their humanness. Making Lee's two sons very different also added complexity and depth to the film. It's obvious that Hank (DiCaprio) is his mother's son, it's just that his mother doesn't realize it. Hank too is at a crucial moment of choice: Will he abandon his selfishness, or will he abandon his familial and moral obligation to help Bessie? And what accounts for the polar opposite behavior of the younger son Charlie (Scardino)? The movie doesn't give an answer. Genetics, environment, relationships and all the other things that make us who we are are complex things. The scriptwriter is smart enough to realize that. Touches of humor keep this from becoming an oppressive Bergmanesque angst-fest, and its patient character development steers it out of obvious soapy (ie. "Terms of Endearment") territory. Although the thing has a sort of TV-movie aesthetic in the staging and the scoring, the writing and acting are everything you'd want. Beautiful.
It's such a wonderful story, not at all as dreary as one would expect.
The late Scott McPherson injected so much humor and heart into this
film, it's hard not to just go along with it. Diane Keaton got the
Oscar nomination, but Meryl Streep's character drives the film, as she
works her way back into a family she turned her back on so she could
have a life of her own. She was right to do so, as her sister (Keaton)
has become consumed with caregiving for her father and aunt, taking
absolutely no time out for herself. The film also features a nice
departure for Robert De Niro from his typically heavy roles. That alone
is worth seeing, and fans of his typical performances should be forced
to watch this.
This quiet film may not have enough action for some, but it is far better than most films dealing with serious illness. The journey these sisters begin is something that has been explored in countless TV movies (think Lifetime), but what separates it is the humor and the character development that makes the viewer wish he/she could stay and watch the family long after the film ends. The film also benefits from the presence of Leonardo DiCaprio, who gives an unlikely nuanced performance as the older son who develops some character and helps his flighty mother grow along with him. The great thing about his presence in the film is that younger viewers (mostly female, probably) will be more likely to see this movie and get something out of it in the process.
Finally, a word about Gwen Verdon and Hume Cronyn. Their contributions to this film are immeasurable. And as already mentioned, it's great that younger viewers can watch this film and get a last look at them in these touching roles and see how charm never fades with age. Cronyn has little to do but lie ill in bed, yet somehow his character remains a focal point. And Verdon's comic relief pairing with the younger son is a real highlight. She also manages a poignant moment or two in a her scenes with Keaton. This truly is an ensemble piece, and it wouldn't have been without their talent. Why I don't yet own a copy of this sweet film is a mystery.
This movie should be reviewed for its great performances from some of the best actors today. Meryl Streep does not fail to shine out as one of the best actresses of all time as an emotionally distraught mother in this tale of hopes, emotions and intense feelings. Keaton, on the other hand portrays her best performance ever, and Leonardo DiCaprio proves that he has talents besides being a heartthrob. This movie really moved me, not because of the story itself but the acting was very realistic....I believe that they all should have received an Oscar nomination. Well done!
Marvin's Room (1996) Dir: Jerry Zaks
Finally a movie of substance that harkens back to Keaton's earlier
successes. Keaton co-stars with drama heavyweight Meryl Streep as two
estranged sisters who reunite to deal with Keaton's recently diagnosed
leukemia. Keaton's character is hopeful that Streep or one of her two
screen sons can be a bone marrow donor for her and thereby possibly save her
life. Meanwhile, Keaton has been caring for the sister's long suffering and
long dying father, Marvin (Hume Croyn). Adding a little box office punch to
the flick is current heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio as one of Streep's
"problem" boys. Though the plot reads like melodrama, and to an extent it
is, the movie is fairly subtle and unexpected in its story line choices. If
nothing else, one doesn't have the feeling that the writers wrote the
screenplay over beers and an episode of Married with Children.
Nominated for Best Actress, Keaton gets to present a more controlled and quiet persona than she usually displays. Streep is typically fine as a used to be good time girl who finally is about to graduate out of beauty school and is having trouble dealing with her sick sister, her dying father and her whacked-out teen son. Definitely worth a view if for no other reason than to fill in the missing Keaton and/or Streep movies you may have missed. And gosh, doesn't Leo look cute!
This film was on the end of Eraser that I taped off Sky Premier, it was
purely accidental that I watched it. I started to watch it thinking that it
might get me to sleep, but then I found it great. Robert De Niro had all the
best lines with his pathetic brother, Bob(Dan Hedaya). Meryl Streep also
shone in her screen time with her son, Hank(Leonardo Di Caprio in his best
I loved the whole dramatic sequences, and found the acting touching and Oscar worthy. Diane Keaton provided all the tears in the film, with the others all providing laughs.
This film was a huge surprise. I don't usually like dramas(although I loved Di Caprio's and De Niro's other film together, This Boy's Life), and I recommend this to everyone who loves good dramas. Rating=4/5
This stage to screen adaptation about two estranged sisters attempting
a reconciliation after one is diagnosed with cancer is sentimental to
the extreme, manipulative beyond forgiveness.....and had me close to
blubbering like a baby by the time it was over.
Chalk it up to the fact that I had recently lost a grandmother to cancer, but this film nearly devastated me even as I was mad that it was so maudlin. The fact that it works as well as it does is due largely to the fact that such good actors are cast in it. Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton play the sisters (Keaton is the ill one), and while it would never have occurred to me to put these two actresses together, the decision was inspired. And right before he rocketed to international fame, Leonardo DiCaprio does strong work as Keaton's troubled nephew.
I won't even try to defend this film against those who say it's too schmaltzy to bear, but please let the rest of us enjoy it in blubbery peace.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We were raised under the lie that families are and should be the
epitome of perfection. Ozzie and Harriet. The Bradys. The Nelsons.
However we all know that this is never the case and more often than not
a trivial incident is the dividing moment where siblings decide to go
their separate ways, and this is the case here: two sisters have been
estranged for about twenty years. Bessie has stayed with her parents
and has taken care of them while Lee has pursued her own interests with
a marked selfishness that hides an inability to cope with familial duty
and in the interim she has raised two boys of her own. Now, father
Marvin is ill with senile dementia and can barely muster words. Bessie
has been diagnosed with leukemia and her chances of survival depends on
a bone marrow transplant and only her estranged family can give her
that. And on top of this, Lee is having her own trouble with her oldest
son: Hank just burned their house down and landed in a mental
institution, so the thought of traveling down to Florida to visit
Bessie seems less than welcome and more than an inconvenience.
Bessie and Lee's reunion is appropriately awkward and filled with tension that is simmering under the surface, ready to explode at any time. Like enemies they circle around each other throwing their personalities at each other and there is a confrontation scene that is inevitable but doesn't quite resolve anything. I was reminded of Ingmar Bergman's CRIES AND WHISPERS, in which two sisters and a maid were taking care of their third sister who was dying, each of them with their own baggage of self-hatred and inability to love and be open. Jerry Zaks' film is not that deep or stylized nor does it intend to be. His is an honest, straightforward examination on Scott McPherson's stage play about the shadow of death lingering over one family and occasionally lapses into humor with its supporting characters. That works well, because to make this a heavy-handed meditation of death, especially when three of its characters are on the brink of it, would be asking too much for its audience. Only its implied nature is seen here but its effect is no less devastating, even if glimmers of hope seep through the fabric of this family and makes its bond tighter.
Being a slice of life story, characters are on center stage at all times so they must be defined through their tempers. Lee is quite a shrill woman who throughout her stay at her parents' seems on the brink of just grabbing her things and driving as fast as she could and could be a version of any of the healthy sisters in the Bergman film. Meryl Streep takes on the role against her ethereal type and uses her body language and strong voice to convey a loud woman who needs so much reassurance that she can't see a little thing as family getting in the way. On the other hand, Bessie is closer to the maid's character in CRIES AND WHISPERS, and Diane Keaton's portrayal is quiet, thoughtful, and on rare occasions only hinting at her own terror as her illness progresses.
The third actor who reveals himself here is Leonardo diCaprio. He plays the troubled son Hank and his interactions are mainly with both sisters. Watch his body language with both: whenever he's with Lee he's angry and borderline threatening. I get the hint that even when the credits are over, they will always have a brittle relationship, and this is due to Lee's own selfishness. Meanwhile, Hank and Bessie break the ice and in one touching scene share a drive on the beach. Their childlike laughter speaks volumes of what their relationship would have been had there never been an estrangement. Leonardo DiCaprio tackles the role with intensity and urgency and there are a couple of moments when I thought he might resemble James Dean without the pout but the sheer anger.
MARVIN'S ROOM doesn't try to give simple answers; after all, all families have dysnfunctions, but instead is like a canvas that reveals itself for the many layers of dynamics between its players and does so in an uplifting manner, much like the beautiful moment when Bessie and Lee witness Marvin's delight in seeing a display of light coming from a mirror Bessie is holding. It's a quiet moment, one of intense love, that shows the power of family despite the odds, and what better way to end the film with Gwen Verdon's last line? Hope is all around.
I came across this movie on Netflix and thought I would give it a go! Surely a movie with Meryl Streep and Dianne Keaton wouldn't disappoint! It sure didn't! While the story has been done before in various formats it's the screenplay that makes this movie a real gem. The main three actors really do a great job. But with Streep, Keaton and DiCaprio one would expect nothing less. For me the the late Gwen Verdon steals the show. she really shows how comedy should be done. The scene with the orange is one that stands out. A mixture of comedy and heart wrenching reality showcases how underrated she has been. This for me should have definitely gained a nod in any supporting actress awards. This movie certainly won't change your life but it really does provide you with food for though about love, family and the importance of life! Give it a go. It won't disappoint.
Scott McPherson adapts a beautiful screenplay from his own play.
'Marvin's Room' could have easily been just another one of those
sentimental disease-of-the-weak type TV films but McPherson stays true
to the story injecting it with a delightful dose of humour. The film
focuses on broken relationships and how it's never too late to take the
step to mend them until you're gone. The execution is simple and that
works very well. The score is in sync with the flow. The writing is
beautiful. The dialogues are cleverly written.
Diane Keaton is marvelous in a role that could have easily turned out to be a cliché if it were played by a lesser actress. She plays her part naturally with a quiet and yet layered restraint. Meryl Streep does a fine job as the slightly more rebellious and estranged sister who had escaped from having to take care of her father and is proud of her diploma. Leonardo Dicaprio isn't bad either. Robert De Niro is great in a more laidback role. He also reveals a flare for comedy. His scenes with a splendid Dan Hedaya had me laughing. Gwen Verdon is a delight and she provides excellent comic relief. Hume Cronyn doesn't have a scene out of bed but he definitely makes the viewer take note of his performance.
My favourite scene is towards the end when the two sisters chat in the kitchen. Keaton's Bessie may have been 'consumed' by taking care of her ailing father and aunt, not 'leading' her own life like the typical American woman but the amazing thing is that she doesn't regret it because she is proud that she has given them so much love and that she can do the same now with her sister and nephews. Then there's the ending which is superbly done. You're left wanting to know how these wonderful characters are doing but at the same time one can acknowledge that it's the best way to end.
Small cast, intimate dramas like MARVIN'S ROOM, NIGHT MOTHER or STEEL
MAGNOLIAS are among the hardest to adapt from the confines of the stage
where the imagination can open the plays ideas up and make what might
seem maudlin, real and life affirming to the more realistic form of
film where it is harder to see beyond the mundane "bed pan" realities
of life. In order to reinvent the best of these - like the plays
mentioned above - to the new genre, every break is needed starting with
bravura casts who, one hopes, an audience will want to see even
"reading the phone book." When a play turns around the characters
dealing literally with confrontations with death at the core of the
plot as in these three great plays, what HAD been on stage a single set
intense evening is frequently "opened up" with all sorts of other
locations and events almost as if to distract us from the very issues
which we are supposed to be attending to.
On stage and screen MARVIN'S ROOM may well be the best of these three "death plays," all of which started and thrived Off-Broadway (only NIGHT MOTHER made the leap to a Broadway house in its initial production). While, somewhat amazingly (considering that one of the standards of the award is "depiction of American life"), MARVIN'S ROOM was not even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1992, it did win a number of other accolades which virtually demanded that Hollywood attempt to bring it to the rest of the nation - and they certainly gave it their all starting with the genuinely all star cast which is both the movie's blessing and its curse. It enraptures with the bouquet of bravura performances even while moving focus away from the central "earth-mother" of the family forced to face her own mortality while trying to care for and hold her collapsing family together around her (Diane Keaton's Oscar nomination - the film's only - notwithstanding).
Ultimately, the film gets where the play was going (as well it ought to have, since Scott McPherson had the luxury of adapting his own play - he may have written his screenplay simultaneously with, if not before the tighter stage version, since he died in 1992, the year MARVIN'S ROOM received its Off-Broadway production at Playwrights' Horizons, winning the Outer Critics' Circle and Drama Desk Awards as best Play of the Year), but the power seems to have shifted from the play's revelations themselves to the dazzling performances. It's still well worth taking the trip, but more to appreciate a monument to more than a dozen brilliant stage and screen careers than a revelatory experience on the meaning of humanity in the face of life and death that the play had been.
Do, by all means see the movie. It works. ...but if you ever get a chance to see the play which either suggested it or grew from it, by all means do - it's smaller but even better.
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