Movies I Need To See Before I Die: MARVIN’S ROOM (1996)


(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have.  Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films.  But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to.  Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already.  I’m a film geek for God’s sake!  I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old.  I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time.  So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see.  Enjoy!)

Every year, since 1993, I’ve tried to see every film nominated for the major Academy Awards.  I’m usually really good with Best Picture, Actor and Supporting Actor.  But for some reason, I miss a lot of the Lead Actress nominations.  Not sure of the reason, it just happens to work out that way I guess.  I remember seeing the trailers for MARVIN’S ROOM, and thinking it looked all right.  Didn’t look bad, but nothing I was dying to see.  Well, now since I’m doing this column, I figured I would finally check it out, mainly due to Diane Keaton being nominated for Best Actress.

Diane Keaton plays a woman who has really done nothing but take care of her dying father for the past 20 years.  She finds out that she has cancer and is in the need of a bone marrow transplant.  She contacts her estranged sister played by Meryl Streep, who lives several states away.  They haven’t spoken in 20 years because Streep didn’t want to deal with her dying parents or want to help take care of them.  She has 2 sons, one of which is played by Leonardo Dicaprio, who is a little shit.  He’s almost 18 and set their house on fire.  He’s one of those emotional troubled teens who lashes out to get attention.  Anyway, Keaton asks Streep to come down so they can be tested to see if her or her sons are potential matches for the transplant, which would save her life.  Of course, there is a bunch of tension between the 2 sisters, but Dicaprio develops a bond with Keaton as he opens up to her in ways he never would for his own mother.

This is pretty much a glorified Hallmark movie.  It has all the melodramatic sap those films contain, and about as many surprises too (which means none, by the way).  Normally, I would consider a movie like this extremely painful to sit through.  But it’s not.  And that’s due to the actors.  I mean, the 4 leads are no slouches.  They make the film watchable.  Dicaprio is young here and was still full of that raw talent.  He does a damn fine job as Streep’s son.  Robert De Niro plays Keaton’s doctor and he was really good.  It’s not a big role, but I really enjoyed his character.  He refreshingly played the doctor as sort of a bumbler.  He doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing, and is physically awkward, but his heart was in the right place.  I also enjoyed Dan Hedaya as his assistant and brother…. with a much lower I.Q.  Their scenes keep the movie fresher than it has any right to be.

Diane Keaton was Oscar nominated for her performance here.  Now, she does a solid job.  I liked her scenes with Dicaprio, but I felt she had some trouble with the more emotional scenes.  She was fine, but Oscar nominated?  I’m not so sure about that.  However, if you were to give someone in the film an Oscar nomination, it should have been Streep.  She’s terrific as the stereotypical chain-smoking single mom.  I love how she gets lost in her roles.  I didn’t see Streep.  I saw a character.  The 2 actresses do work well together though.  My favorite moment in the movie is when Keaton is telling Streep about her one true love. Streep is totally engrossed with the story, and when Keaton mentions what happened to him, her reaction to it is about as natural as you can get.  She’s so good.  I mean, she’s not known for being one of Hollywood’s greatest actresses for nothing, right?

The direction by Jerry Zaks is something of a mixed bag.  The opening title sequence was cool, as the camera lingers over a bunch of prescription medication.  He also lets the actors simply act by just letting the camera linger on their performances rather than cutting the picture all to hell.  But then there’s some weird transitions.  There are several moments in the movie when the scene abruptly ends with an awkwardly quick fade-out.  I didn’t understand the reasoning behind that.  The script, which was based on a play, is all schmaltz.  This is a Hallmark movie through and through, complete with terminal illnesses, sibling rivalry, and troubled families.  The acting certainly elevates it from being unwatchable though.

The only reason this movie was able to avoid a premiere on the Hallmark channel was solely because it starred some of the greatest actors working in cinema.  Great work from Dicaprio, De Niro, and especially Streep certainly make the film watchable, but it still can’t save it from feeling like a TV movie of the week.  If you’re a fan of melodrama… and over 60, then you’ll find much to like.  Me, I wanted something a little less manufactured.  Not a horrible movie.  It’s a mediocre movie with some better-than-average performances.  ★★½ (out of ★★★★)

– Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief language.

– Running time: 1hr 38min.

(MARVIN’S ROOM is currently streaming on Netflix)


Categories: Austin Kennedy, Movies I Need To See Before I Die, Reviews

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