After seventeen years, a fiercely independent woman and her rebellious son return home and together they turn the family she left behind upside down.After seventeen years, a fiercely independent woman and her rebellious son return home and together they turn the family she left behind upside down.After seventeen years, a fiercely independent woman and her rebellious son return home and together they turn the family she left behind upside down.
On stage and screen MARVIN'S ROOM may well be the best of these three "death plays," all of which started and thrived Off-Broadway (only NIGHT MOTHER made the leap to a Broadway house in its initial production). While, somewhat amazingly (considering that one of the standards of the award is "depiction of American life"), MARVIN'S ROOM was not even a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1992, it did win a number of other accolades which virtually demanded that Hollywood attempt to bring it to the rest of the nation - and they certainly gave it their all starting with the genuinely all star cast which is both the movie's blessing and its curse. It enraptures with the bouquet of bravura performances even while moving focus away from the central "earth-mother" of the family forced to face her own mortality while trying to care for and hold her collapsing family together around her (Diane Keaton's Oscar nomination - the film's only - notwithstanding).
Ultimately, the film gets where the play was going (as well it ought to have, since Scott McPherson had the luxury of adapting his own play - he may have written his screenplay simultaneously with, if not before the tighter stage version, since he died in 1992, the year MARVIN'S ROOM received its Off-Broadway production at Playwrights' Horizons, winning the Outer Critics' Circle and Drama Desk Awards as best Play of the Year), but the power seems to have shifted from the play's revelations themselves to the dazzling performances. It's still well worth taking the trip, but more to appreciate a monument to more than a dozen brilliant stage and screen careers than a revelatory experience on the meaning of humanity in the face of life and death that the play had been.
Do, by all means see the movie. It works. ...but if you ever get a chance to see the play which either suggested it or grew from it, by all means do - it's smaller but even better.
- Sep 26, 2011