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Marvin's Room Blu-ray Review

Marvin's Room (1996) movie poster Marvin's Room

Theatrical Release: December 18, 1996 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Jerry Zaks / Writer: Scott McPherson (play & screenplay)

Cast: Meryl Streep (Lee Lacker), Leonardo DiCaprio (Hank Lacker), Diane Keaton (Bessie Wakefield), Robert De Niro (Dr. Wallace "Wally" Carter), Hume Cronyn (Marvin Wakefield), Gwen Verdon (Aunt Ruth), Hal Scardino (Charlie Lacker), Dan Hedaya (Bob Carter), Cynthia Nixon (Retirement Home Director), Margo Martindale (Dr. Charlotte Samit), Kelly Ripa (Coral), John Callahan (Lance)

Buy Marvin's Room from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD

Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks had no shortage of acting talent to help him make his film directorial debut. The 1996 drama Marvin's Room stars Oscar winners Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep as well as a young Leonardo DiCaprio on the cusp of superstardom.
It also features Robert De Niro and the extensively seasoned Hume Cronyn and Gwen Verdon in supporting roles. Marvin's Room had to be a long time coming. Its only writing credits go to Scott McPherson, whose screenplay, adapting his Drama Desk Award-winning 1990 Chicago play, was completed before his 1992 death from AIDS complications.

The film opens with Bessie Wakefield (Diane Keaton) going for a routine doctor's appointment. Her regular physician is away, so she has to see Dr. Wally (Robert De Niro, good in limited screentime), a pleasant man with lacking bedside manner and awkward communication skills. Bessie learns, in Dr. Wally's roundabout non-committal fashion, that what was suspected as being a vitamin deficiency could very well be leukemia. That diagnosis and the need for a bone marrow transplant prompt Bessie to contact her sister Lee (Meryl Streep) for the first time in twenty years.

Lee, an Ohio beautician, has her hands full with the elder of her two sons. The latest act of rebellion by the nearly 18-year-old Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio) is to burn down the family's house. That lands Hank in a mental institution and has Lee living in a convent. In response to Bessie's call, Lee makes the drive down to Florida with Hank and her younger son Charlie (The Indian in the Cupboard's Hal Scardino) to see if any of them are a match for the bone marrow transplant Bessie desperately needs.

Cosmetologist Lee (Meryl Streep) ponders what she can do to add style to the wig of her leukemic sister Bessie (Diane Keaton) in "Marvin's Room."

The long estrangement and mutual guilt hang in the air over Bessie's house, as the two disparate sisters aim to remain civil. Bessie shares her home with the eponymous Marvin (Hume Cronyn), the women's slowly dying father long bedridden and riddled with severe dementia who requires hourly medication, and Aunt Ruth (Gwen Verdon), a chipper devotee of soap operas.

Not too unusual for something hailing from the stage, Marvin's Room prefers character development and conversation to plot and action. Bessie is able to see the good qualities within the tale-telling Hank, who resists getting tested for the transplant. Lee is more inclined to bolt than take on the responsibility of caring for Bessie, Marvin, and Ruth.

Most films adhere to standard structures, introducing conflict than can be eventually be resolved. More akin to theatre, Marvin's Room spares us that, instead allowing us to simply invest in these flawed human characters as they co-exist for either the first time or the first time in a long time. The movie never leaves you wanting more than the entertaining family drama it offers.

Though it bears the cover of a weepy, touchy-feely chick flick, the kind that De Niro is never caught in and that DiCaprio has avoided since Titanic, Marvin's Room is better than that. There is emotion, but it is tastefully handled by Zaks and his accomplished cast, which includes uncharacteristic work from Streep and De Niro.

Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio) introduces Bessie (Diane Keaton) to the thrills of driving along an ocean shoreline. In addition to producing the film, Robert De Niro appears as Dr. Wally, Bessie's awkwardly-mannered substitute physician.

As a Miramax film of the mid-1990s that opened in New York and Los Angeles a week before Christmas, then proceeded to expand in the winter months, Marvin's Room certainly seemed to possess some award season ambitions. It would pick up fewer accolades than the Brothers Weinstein probably envisioned. Keaton, who is most curiously given third billing behind Streep and DiCaprio, received a Best Actress nomination from the Academy Awards. The Golden Globes, meanwhile, nominated Streep for Best Actress in a Drama.

The film also competed for the Screen Actors Guild's top honor, Outstanding Performance by a Cast, and was one of fifteen recognized by the National Board of Review for excellence in filmmaking. Despite these acknowledgements, Marvin's Room lost money at the box office, grossing just $12.8 million on a $23 M production budget.

A year later, Titanic would make DiCaprio's the world's leading heartthrob, status he was impressively, eventually able to parlay into a serious acting career working almost exclusively with respected, accomplished directors. DiCaprio's rising profile and the enduring visibility of Streep and De Niro doesn't seem to have elevated Marvin's Room to a beloved bestseller. That would explain why the film was part of the lesser Miramax Films catalog acquired by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment and not the more commercially proven lot inherited by Lionsgate. Echo Bridge brings Marvin's Room to Blu-ray in general retail at the end of March, but the disc has been available since late January as a Best Buy exclusive.

Fans of Disney theme parks might be surprised and interested to learn that Marvin's Room is the first feature film to depict Walt Disney World in Orlando as is. While the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California featured in the 1962 Tony Curtis comedy 40 Pounds of Trouble, various sitcoms have taped episodes at Walt Disney World, and at least two films used the location to represent others, Marvin's Room got unprecedented access, spending three days shooting in Magic Kingdom and another day or two on a soundstage at what was then called Disney-MGM Studios. The result is a prominent and cinematic look at the Walt Disney World of October 1995.

Marvin's Room Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: None; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: March 26, 2013 (Best Buy Exclusive: January 27, 2013)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($6.99 SRP; May 3, 2011) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released by Buena Vista on DVD (February 9, 1999)
and VHS (September 1, 1998)


Echo Bridge's Blu-ray presents Marvin's Room in 1.78:1, an acceptable representation of the film's 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The picture quality is quite good. Scrutiny reveals some very minor artifacts and the colors seem a tad pale. But the transfer, if not terribly sharp, is quite satisfying nonetheless.

In a standard touch that Echo Bridge doesn't extend as frequently as it should, the film is presented in 5.1-channel sound, courtesy of the default DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Crisp and engaging, it slightly exceeds expectations and is complemented by a 2.0 DTS-HD MA option as well. Sadly, but typical for the studio, no subtitles of any kind are offered here.

Meryl Streep and Carly Simon sing "Two Little Sisters" together in the Blu-ray's new bonus feature. The Blu-ray's subtly animated menu replaces the cover's mystery silhouettes with the more fitting image of a car driving along the shore.


What the case calls "Two Little Sisters: The Making of Marvin's Room", the menu more accurately labels "The Making of: Two Little Sisters" (3:29). This short standard definition featurette,
included on neither Disney's 1999 DVD nor Echo Bridge's 2011 one, shows us Carly Simon and Meryl Streep collaborating on and recording the end credits song, while Robert De Niro and Harvey Weinstein watch from a close distance. Though the tune didn't pick up a single Best Original Song nomination, it's nice and surprising that Echo Bridge is uncovering extras previously unavailable.

The menu loops an excerpt of "Two Little Sisters" over a version of the cover art which clouds are animated to move behind. Speaking of that cover art, I'm curious to hear who the four silhouetted people taking a stroll on the beach are supposed to be. Certainly, nothing like that occurs in the movie and the silhouettes do not obviously correspond to any of the film's characters. Oh, to be a fly on the wall of an Echo Bridge cover designer and gain insight into the often bizarre choices made.

Like other EBEHE Blu-rays, this one does not support bookmarks, but does resume playback of an unfinished movie viewing. That's what DVDs do and there's no good reason for any studio to offer less than that nowadays.

Like a cat, Marvin (Hume Cronyn) is entertained by light reflections on a wall. Marvin's oxygen tank poses an obstacle to Lee's (Meryl Streep) smoking habit.


I don't know that Marvin's Room is a movie that fans will revisit with much frequency. But it is a good movie that you will appreciate seeing. Echo Bridge's Blu-ray is a typical, yet satisfying effort from the studio. The picture quality is quite good, the lack of subtitles is unfortunate, the addition of a new bonus feature is nice and surprising, and the price is low. This is one of the stronger movies and discs in Echo Bridge's catalog and therefore one of your best bets for getting a worthwhile '90s film on an inexpensive Blu-ray.

Buy Marvin's Room from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD

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Reviewed February 19, 2013.

Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1996 Miramax Films, Scott Rudin Productions, Tribeca, and 2013 Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, Miramax.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.