Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Film Version of Marvin's Room

I was offered first pick of stage managing shows for the 2012 season at Dragon so I sat down and read them all. And while I actually really enjoyed all the scripts, Marvin's Room was the one that really resonated with me, for a number of reasons. I knew that there was a film version of it, but I chose not to watch it, as I'd heard it was quite different from the play, even though the playwright wrote the script for the film. I finally got around to watching the movie this weekend and man am I glad I waited.

On it's face, the film version has a TON going for it. Diane Keaton is Bessie, Meryl Streep is Lee, young Leonardo diCaprio is Hank, Robert DeNiro is Doctor Wally, and on and on. It's truly an all-star cast. It's directed by Jerry Zaks, who has an amazing directorial resume. And yet. The play, which really is quite funny, because it's SUPPOSED to be funny, is really NOT FUNNY. They stripped out all the humor and left it a sad, sorrowful mess.

I did some digging because I knew that Scott McPherson, the playwright, passed in 1992 from complications related to AIDS. The film came out in 1996. In the interim, John Guare, another playwright with an outstanding resume, was brought on board, both to produce and to tighten up the script. So I'm blaming him for the changes. I'm not sure that's fair but that's what I choose to go with.

They showed Hank burning down the house. What?! And Marvin himself gets a fair amount of screen time. The ending was different and I didn't like it. But my biggest problem with the film was that Lee was the center of the story. And, on the one hand, I get that if you have Meryl Streep, you want to feature her. But on the other hand, it's not really her story.

There were a few things that worked for me - if you've seen the show you'll remember the story that Bessie tells about her boyfriend Clarence James. It made me tear up and I've heard that monologue approximately a thousand times now. Dan Hedaya kept the funny as Doctor Wally's brother, Bob.

The film runs 98 minutes, including all the credits, so despite everything they added, they did make a bunch of cuts.

All in all, if I'd only seen the film I would have passed on the show, which is a shame because I think that it's one of the best scripts I've read in an awfully long time. There's so much happening on the page that, with the cast that they landed, they could have really worked with.

Anyone else see the film? What'd you think?

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