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Entertainment Weekly, 12-20-1996, pp 56.

 

MOVIES: FIRST YOU CRY, THEN YOU LAUGH

KEATON, STREEP, AND DICAPRIO RELATE IN

'MARVIN'S ROOM'

 

 

In MARVIN'S ROOM (Miramax, PG-13), Bessie (Diane Keaton), who

has devoted her life to caring for her stroke-impaired father

(Hume Cronyn) and brittle old aunt (Gwen Verdon), discovers in

tired middle age that she has leukemia. Bessie is a coper; even

while receiving the bad news from her pleasantly disorganized

doctor (Robert De Niro), she's more concerned about Dad and

Auntie. But now even Bessie needs help--and for that, she calls

on her rebellious younger sister, Lee (Meryl Streep), who

reluctantly comes to test as a bone marrow donor, along with her

troubled teenage son, Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his kid

brother (Hal Scardino from The Indian in the Cupboard).

The dying teach the healthy about living in Scott McPherson's

adaptation of his own 1991 stage play. Bessie's gentleness gets

Hank to open up about his anger. And Lee, a single mother fierce

about the freedom won by leaving home, comes to appreciate the

reward her sister finds in commitment. Are you weeping yet?

Marvin's Room is unrelentingly depressing when not morbidly

funny (the playwright died of AIDS in 1992, and the AIDS subtext

is everywhere if you look for it). And the movie, directed in

his feature film debut by noted Broadway talent Jerry Zaks (Guys

and Dolls), doesn't really lift off from the stage.

But for the performances of Keaton, Streep, and DiCaprio, it's

worth putting up with some free-floating sentimentality.

Keaton's warmth, freed from that fluttery thing she so famously

does and only enhanced by her bravely shopworn look, thaws any

Streepish coolness, and the two get off on each other far more

honestly than, say, Keaton bonded with Bette Midler in The First

Wives Club. The deeply gifted DiCaprio, meanwhile, keeps right

up with these older pros. The three are so full-bodied and so

powerfully affecting that you're carried along on the pleasure

of being in the presence of their extraordinary talent. B --LS