Synopsis by Mark Deming
Two sisters try to set their familial differences aside -- one in hopes of saving her own life -- in this drama with comic accents. Bessie (Diane Keaton) has lived in Florida for the past 20 years, where she's been caring for her chronically ill father Marvin (Hume Cronyn) and her Aunt Ruth (Gwen Verdon), who does not seem well aquatinted with reality. While Bessie's life has not been easy, she feels that it's rewarding in its way, and she's come to love her father very much. However, when Bessie is diagnosed with cancer, she's told that the only treatment likely to save her would be a bone marrow transplant from a close relative -- which leads Bessie to contact her sister Lee (Meryl Streep) for the first time since their father fell ill. Bessie and Lee have a number of issues with each other that they've never resolved, many concerning their responses to Marvin's illness (Bessie rushed to his side, while Lee preferred to stay away), and Lee's own life has been difficult. She's gotten herself out of a bad marriage, has only recently started supporting herself as a beautician, and has to raise two kids on her own. Ten-year-old Charlie (Hal Scardino) tries to simply ignore the chaos going on all round him, while Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio), a troubled 17-year-old, was recently institutionalized after burning down the family's home. As the straight-laced Bessie and the earthy Lee reestablish contact after two decades, they discover just how much emotional ground they have to cover before they can meet on common ground. Robert De Niro appears in a supporting role as Dr. Wally, Bessie's physician. Marvin's Room was based on the stage drama by Scott McPherson, which opened in 1990; McPherson himself was critically ill at the time -- he died two years later from complications relating to AIDS.
cancer, estrangement, family, father, mother, parent/child-relationship, sister, son, terminal-illness, transplant