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Marvin's Room
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51 out of 53 people found the following review useful:

Beyond the conventions of the tear-jerker

Author: Kevin Rayburn from Louisville
13 January 1999

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.

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27 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

The screenplay is really the star of this film.

9/10
Author: xavrush89 from Illinois, U.S.A.
15 January 2005

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.

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24 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

Great acting, simple story

10/10
Author: anonymous from Toronto, Canada
6 August 1998

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!

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17 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Keaton/Streep Melodrama

10/10
Author: mrcaw1 from United States
27 April 2004

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!

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12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

I Have A Confession

Author: joe elliott from Leicester, England
6 October 1999

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 role ever).

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

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6 out of 6 people found the following review useful:

Better Than It Should Have Been

7/10
Author: evanston_dad from United States
16 June 2009

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.

Grade: A-

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4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Intimate dramas are the hardest to film - well worth the effort when they work though

7/10
Author: eschetic-2 from Bolton, Ct./Jersey City, NJ; United States
26 September 2011

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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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Oh what a difference a screenplay makes!!!!

8/10
Author: Conork2 from United Kingdom
14 September 2012

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.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

It's Never Too Late To Mend Broken Relationships Until You're Gone

Author: Chrysanthepop from Fraggle Rock
21 March 2012

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.

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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

An Underrated Gem

9/10
Author: olivia porazzi from United States
1 May 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I happen to rank this movie as one of Leo's finest. It is definitely not as main-stream as his others, but the content and the acting was brilliant. I am a sucker for movies about dysfunctional families and this one takes the cake. It was so human...there was nothing "Hollywood" about this at all.

Each character has their own emotional turmoil and when Lee comes down with Hank and Charlie, the characters are forced to come to terms with it. Leo delivered a stand-out performance in a cast of film legends. Meryl Streep is also wonderful as Lee, the self-centered mom who left her family behind in search of her own dreams.

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