Entertainment Weekly, 12-20-1996, pp 56.
MOVIES: FIRST YOU CRY, THEN YOU LAUGH
KEATON, STREEP, AND DICAPRIO RELATE IN
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