merylfest: MARVIN’S ROOM (1996)

So, I’m definitely from the Marvin’s Room camp of people that equally loved Meryl‘s performance in the film as they did Diane Keaton‘s (though hers was the Oscar-nominated one). As Lee, the sister to Keaton’s Bessie, the two great ones are a match made in cinematic heaven. Streep is unflinchingly regular and virtually accent-less in this family dramedy (yeah, I hate that term too), so we get an almost completely raw version of Ms. Streep in this movie. It’s believable that she could be leading a double life as the hairdresser mother to Leonardo DiCaprio. The gist of the film is this: when Lee’s estranged sister Bessie, who has cared for their ailing father and aunt for years, falls ill herself, she calls on down-and-out Lee to come assist her. Needless to say, Lee is no angel. She’s a bitter divorcee with two sons, one of whom – Hank – is locked up in an institution for starting their house on fire (good ol’ DiCaprio). But what ensues from their short vacation to Florida to visit Aunt Bessie is pure acting goodness.


Leave it to The Philadelphia Story for perfecting what has become the modern “all-star cast.” In Marvin’s Room, typically fantastic actors Streep, Keaton, and DiCaprio are joined by Hume Cronyn (as papa Marvin himself), the delightful Gwen Verdon (as Aunt Ruth), and Robert de Niro (as the bumbling Dr. Wally) — not to mention cameos from a young Cynthia Nixon and the wonderful character actress Margo Martindale as Hank’s psychiatrist. Cosmic forces together bring greatness to what could otherwise be a bland, Hallmark-y event.

Sure, Keaton gets the extra points for playing the long-suffering Bessie with subtle poise, but it’s Streep’s Lee that provides the real stretch here. Her mothering skills are highly questionable, but her growth from an immature adult to an uneasy caregiver throughout the film is more than just tearjerking. Though Marvin’s Room may have been virtually forgotten once 1996 turned to 1997, it’s a personal favorite of mine, and it’s hard to beat a cast like this.

Meryl’s Performance: A-
The Film: A

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2 responses to “merylfest: MARVIN’S ROOM (1996)”

  1. Jose says :

    I never got how one was forced to choose between Keaton and Streep come awards season for this.They were both extraordinary and Streep was nominated for much inferior performances than this later on.Which reminds me, how the hell did AMPAS dare not nominate her for "The Hours"? G-d she would've even gotten my vote over Kidman!

  2. Luke says :

    Ha! Believe it or not, I was going to refer to the Keaton/Streep dilemma as "The Hours Syndrome!" My, my how I agree with you on that! 🙂

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