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  November 18th, 2012       Posted by Frederik       Display Comments

Today spotlight features my second-favorite performance, “Marvin’s Room”, Jerry Zak’s 1996 drama co-starring Diane Keaton and Leonardo DiCaprio. New DVD screencaptures have been added to the image library as well as additional production stills. Three new clips can be found in the video archive, alongside various interviews, featurette and Meryl and Carly Simon recording “Two Little Sisters”. Production notes and review after the cut. As always, please share your thoughts on “Marvin’s Room” in the comment. And check back next week for the “Movie of the Week” finale.

Production Notes

The story behind “Marvin’s Room” is short and tragic. Playwright Scott McPherson used his experience of caring for his partner, who died of AIDS. Two years after the play’s premiere in 1990, McPherson died of AIDS as well. The play became a hit on national stages, winning an Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Play in 1992. It also gained interest from Robert De Niro, who didn’t own the rights yet but was eager to adapt it for the big screen. Among the first people he sent the script, which had been finished by McPherson before his passing, was Meryl Streep, who agreed to play Bessie after seeing the play with her son in 1990. Anjelica Huston was cast in the role of Lee. But Streep bailed out of the project again. “It fell apart basically because I was afraid. Because of the nature of the play. Because it skirts a very fine line between real-felt tragedy and a purely comic sensibility. And I thought it would take too heavy a toll to do it.” In 1996, Streep and De Niro joined forces again when he and producer Scott Rudin had owned the rights. “By that time, however, I didn’t want to play Bessie. I had just shot “Before and After”, I had played all those good mothers and good people… So I just said, ‘Gimme the shitty one.’ Streep suggested Diane Keaton for the part. And Leonardo DiCaprio, on the rise to become the actor of his generation, was cast as Meryl’s rebellious son, Hank.

“I finally got some credibility in my own household when Leo called me ‘da bomb’. I thought ‘da bomb’ was a bad thing, but no. On ‘Marvin’s Room’ I realized that I learn from De Niro all the time. And my mother used to say, ‘on a multiple-choice test, your first choice is generally right.’ And Bobby’s all about doubting himelf, saying ‘let me do one more, one more’. He can give a director and an editor an infinite variety of choices. And I’m more one to say, ‘Look, I have to go home and cook dinner for twelve people and I CAN’T BE HERE ANYMORE’ (Meryl Streep, Entertainment Weekly, March 2000)

While Streep and Keaton enjoyed playing sisters, both Meryl and Leonardo have remarked in interviews that their collaboration on the set wasn’t that intimate. “I remember doing scenes with Meryl Streep for ‘Marvin’s Room’ and saying to myself, ‘What is this lady doing? She’s all over the place!”, DiCaprio told the New York Daily News in 2006. “There I am at 19, saying, ‘Oh God, that’ll look terrible!’ And then I saw her on screen of course and thought, ‘Wow, she’s running circles around everybody!'” Meryl told Premiere Magazine in 1997, that “Leonardo’s hilarious off the set and then it gets serious. Then you want to say, ‘Shut up, Leonardo. We’re gonna do this shot where I have to cry, so I need to pay attention’. But he’s unschooled in that way of protocol that the older generation of actors are, when they give each other their personal space. And it fueled me, because I adore his work and his concentration.” “Marvin’s Room” released shortly before Christmas in 1996 and remained little-seen. While the film was labeled as a tearjerker by critics, the cast received an equal share of praise. Meryl was nominated for a Golden Globe and Diane Keaton received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress. The cast further received an Ensemble nomination at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Frederik’s Review

“Marvin’s Room” remains so little-seen and almost unmentioned in articles, that some may forget this film even exists. In it, Meryl Streep gives the most surprising performance of her 1990s career. Instead of choosing the likeable role of Bessie, she takes on Lee, a woman in a constant bad mood. You can imagine Lee best at carrying an invisible thundercloud around with her. She has stopped contact to her family because she didn’t approve of their homely life. Her own life hasn’t been better with a failed marriage for which she blames her son. So the perspective of revisiting the one family she has abandoned with the other family she doesn’t like sets Lee into an inner turmoil. Her dialogue and actions to be taken aware as someone in charge and control of her life, both of which is a lie, is a comic relief – and makes the character deeply human. In the short span of its time, the story takes place within a couple of days, each character is given the proper time to be understood and to grow. Streep, Keaton and DiCaprio are equally good and surrounded by a great ensemble cast. But it’s Streep who stays in mind. As in “Silkwood”, she takes on the task of portraying a normal, working-class woman (and an equal consumption of cigarettes) and succeeds with a subtle, funny and memorable performance, which I consider one of her very best. Her scenes with Keaton are powerful and those in interaction with her sons are a masterlcass of comic and timing. “Marvin’s Room” is very recommended.




  • Tena

    I totally agree that this is one of Meryl’s finest performances!
    It’s been one of my favorite movies since it first hit theaters!
    And I remember vividly how upset I was when the Oscar nominations came out that year and Diane Keaton was up for Best Actress(!), while they completely overlooked Meryl in the same movie!
    As a HUGE movie fan I take great pride in the fact that I’ve seen EVERY Oscar nominated performance(both Lead and Supporting) and ALL Best Picture nominees before the awards are telecast every year for more than 20 years now!……..and sometimes it is NOT an easy task!
    With that said, I have been Amazed at the times they have overlooked Meryl, either with no nomination at all or sometimes a loss to an actress that clearly gave a performance that Meryl far exceeded!
    But, back to “Marvin’s Room”…. LOVE IT!!
    Meryl, Diane Keaton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, the Delightful Hume Cronyn, the Fabulous Gwen Verdon, and the rest of the cast bring this story to life!…..and even a young Kelly Ripa in the Soap Opera scenes filmed just for the movie!
    It’s really a special film and again Meryl is Beautiful & Magnificent!
    Another Great Movie that you should not miss!

  • Laura

    It’s amazing how Meryl can make you love and care about such an unlikeable character – of course she did it in Silkwood and The Devil Wears Prada, to name a few, too! Having a sister like Bessie myself, I idenified with Lee, but that only would have been possible for me with Meryl’s spot-on performance. I loved this movie, and loved seeing DiCaprio and Streep on screen together! This is absolutely one of my favourite Meryl movies!

    I can’t believe Diane Keaton was nominated for an Oscar for Bessie and Meryl wasn’t for Lee though! INSANE!

  • Jane

    Wonderful, touching movie, fantastic performances by all actors. It’s nice to see a different side of Meryl. I’m glad she eventually did Lee and not Bessie, her performance feels very fresh and energetic. I also love how funny this movie actually is.

  • Sonja

    Well, I would definitely not rank this movie as my No. 2, (top 15 more likely) but I like it a lot. Meryl and Diane were such great sisters. The one completely different from the other, perfect. Plus great chemestry of both with Leonardo DiCaprio.
    Many heartbreaking and also -warming moments, especially the last shot with the mirror lights.
    And the ending song was wonderful, too.

  • Marc

    I absolutely loved this film. Heartwarming story, excellent performances by all. Diane Keaton & Meryl work so well together. It’s a movie that reminds us to slow down, and enjoy the things that really matter in life. I related to Meryl’s character’s dilema, having returned home to live with my ageing mother, and the conflict it stirred up in me. I wanted to “run” too! :)

  • Christine

    This too is one of my favorite film’s of Meryl’s.I remember the 1st time I saw it,an how much it hit home for me.I watched it a number of times,an to this day still take something away from each of this great cast’s performance.I still wonder how many ciggarette’s Meryl ended up smoking through out filming? lol.She had one is every scene!

  • Lucia

    I don’t know if I would rank it my second favourite, but I agree that she has really great moments in this film. The potato chips scene is really wonderful, and all the unsaid is amazing

  • Harry

    This is an incredible film. Master class acting. Meryl is incredible as always.

  • Manuel

    I KNEW it! :-) (see my last comment on Silkwood)….

    I like the movie a lot, it’s fun and it’s serious and keeps the right balance. Streep is marvelous, I had so much fun watching her bitchy character in the first half and then came so attached to her in the second.