Distributed by: Miramax
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
With the upcoming Leonardo DiCaprio film The Great Gatsby soon to hit theaters and me sidelined with a nasty cold, I decided to curl up in bed and watch an old DiCaprio film co-starring Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton called Marvin's Room. Based on a play by Scott McPherson and co-produced by Robert De Niro, Marvin's Room was nominated for numerous awards in 1996. I remembered seeing it once and being impressed by DiCaprio's performance, so I decided to pop it in the player and figure out just what it was that impressed me so early in his career.
In Marvin's Room, Meryl Streep is Lee, the single mother of two children. Charlie (Hal Scardino) is the quiet, studious younger son and Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio) is the troubled older sibling whose anger at the fact that his father is no longer in his life manifests itself in violent ways. One episode in particular causes a fire to sweep through a number of houses and lands Hank in a psychiatric hospital. Lee, finding it difficult to express emotions with her sons and feeling the need to present a tough girl attitude at all times, bristles at her inability to reach her oldest son.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Lee's sister Bessie (Diane Keaton) cares for their sick father, Marvin (Hume Cronyn), and debilitated and slightly addled Aunt Ruth (Gwen Verdon), as she has been doing since Marvin had his first stroke twenty years ago. When Bessie is diagnosed with leukemia, her doctor (Robert De Niro) suggests that Bessie call Lee to find a possible bone marrow donor match. So, after twenty years of not speaking, Lee decides to make the journey to Florida, taking Hank out of the psychiatric hospital, in an effort to help her sister.
While there, Lee finds herself in an extremely difficult situation. She ran from this responsibility years ago and now faces the possibility that she may have to take care of her sister along with her father and aunt. But despite the sadness of the situation, Hank thrives in Florida, finding a friend in Aunt Bessie and marvels in Marvin's room.
Though the movie ends on a sad note (trust me, I'm not ruining the ending by saying so), the characters find a sense of closure by the end of the film that give the viewer the idea that everyone will be alright. But it isn't the storyline of Marvin's Room that makes this a good movie - it's the acting, particularly that of a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Although he had been in some decent dramatic roles over the years, it was the role of the troubled teenager Hank that would resonate with movie-goers when they attended Titanic the following year. This was where you first saw Leonardo DiCaprio shine in a dramatic role. He was truly believable and made his character someone you wanted to see do better in life.
Diane Keaton is stellar as the sister who gave up everything to become a caretaker for her family but earned something some people never get to experience. As Bessie tells Lee how thankful she is for having love in her life, Lee mistakes that for love received, but Bessie explains that she is thankful for the love she has been able to give. The fact that she has been able to shower love on people who have truly needed it is all that Bessie needs to make her happy, a moral to this story that many of us could learn from.
Despite being listed as one of the stars of this film, Meryl Streep takes a backseat to Keaton and DiCaprio in this film. Her acting is excellent as usual, but it's not as gripping a performance as we have come to expect from Streep and the audience will come to have an extreme dislike for her character by the middle of the movie which doesn't clear up much by the end. Robert De Niro also takes a backseat here as the uncomfortable around people Dr. Wally. There are some funny appearances by Dan Hedaya and a quick soap opera appearance by a young Kelly Ripa, but it is ultimately Keaton and DiCaprio that make this movie memorable.
Perhaps you have never heard of Marvin's Room - it doesn't get a lot of hype in the media world, but if you've never heard of it, what do you have to lose by checking it out? Despite the sad ending...or lack of a complex ending (if you ask me), Marvin's Room is well worth watching if only to see how DiCaprio has grown in acting ability over the years. The message of Marvin's Room is beautiful if you are paying attention to it and Keaton's performance is excellent, making this an enjoyable movie despite the sad subject matter.