My current Top 5

My current Top 5

1/07/2010

Best Actress 1996: Diane Keaton in "Marvin's Room"

When Marvin’s Room, a sentimental story about two estranged sisters, opened in 1996, it seemed that Meryl Streep would be one to get the Oscar attention after she was the only one to get a nomination from the Golden Globes. But Diane Keaton beat Meryl to the SAG Awards and finally was the one to receive the Oscar nomination for her performance as Bessie, a woman who took care of her sick father and her aunt for 20 years and is now facing leukemia.

We learn almost everything about Bessie in the first few minutes of the movie. She is having a doctor’s appointment where it is already mentioned that something is wrong with her. And she is also telling the doctor about her private life, about her father who is dying for 20 years and her aunt who is a little confused. Bessie talks about this with a mix of comedy and sadness – we see that taking care of other people is all that Bessie’s life is about and she has accepted it long ago. The way she talks about all this shows that it is not easy for her but she does it without any complaints. Diane Keaton makes Bessie a symbol of support and calmness.

The mix of comedy and drama that Diane Keaton shows in a lot of moments of her performance is also the theme of Marvin’s Room. This is not the serious, heavy-handed drama about illness and estranged relatives one expects – instead, it more often than once mixed the most serious scenes with a good deal of comedy, sometimes with effective and sometimes with disastrous results.

When Bessie learns that she suffers from leukemia, she has to get in touch with her estranged sister Lee again. They haven’t spoken in 17 years, but Lee immediately comes to visit Bessie to see if she can help her. Lee has enough problems of her own with her rebellious son Hank who tried to burn down their house but Bessie is able to connect with him very quickly – her quiet and friendly way of behaving is very different from the way his mother acts.

In the role of Bessie, Diane Keaton gives a very simple and beautiful performance. Diane Keaton is always a very warm, likeable and honest presence on the screen and this performance is no difference.

It’s mostly the banality of the script and the undecided directing that works against her. In the part of Bessie, Diane Keaton can never really make a good impression because almost all dramatic scenes are destroyed by an uncalled use of comedy. When we see her taking care of her sick father, it is destroyed by him putting the wrong button on his automatic bed. When we see her in hospital with a bandage around her head, it is destroyed by her aunt’s silly monologue. When we see her collapsing in Disney World after having discovered that she is bleeding in her mouth, it is destroyed by Goofy being one of the first people to take care of her.

There are some times in the movie when the mix of comedy and drama works but they mostly involve Meryl Streep. Diane Keaton’s most shining moments are her quiet ones: her moving reaction to the news of her sickness, her quiet desperation when her father is having an attack or her very touching breakdowns at the end when the fear of death enters her life.

Throughout the movie, Bessie also always remains that symbol of support and efficiency that she was in the beginning. Even in her own serious situation, she still has to manage her father’s and her aunt’s life, too, and she does it without complaining or even thinking about complaining – it’s a natural part of her life, like breathing or eating.

Marvin’s Room is a movie that is able to bring it’s sentimentality across mostly due to the great acting. Diane Keaton and Meryl Streep work very well with each other. Their re-union scene is very moving because it avoids too much sentiment and doesn’t overdo the comedy, either. Both actresses are so comfortable in their roles because they fit their talents perfectly: Diane Keaton’s acting seems to come from inside and helps to create this warm and charming woman while Meryl Streep’s acting seems to come from outside, is more prepared and elaborate which works well to create her distant, sometimes cold and confused character.

Overall, it’s a warm and engaging story and the actresses more than once bring tears to the viewer’s eyes with their equally engaging performances. That way, Diane Keaton serves the movie commendable, but apart from playing the character as written, she never does anything more. She never gives any more depth to Bessie except when the script asks her to which unfortunately, does not happen very often. Mostly, she even suffers from the script. A good example is the scene with Leonardo DiCaprio at the beach. Just when it is about to become a moving and great scene for Diane Keaton, it is over again.

Diane Keaton handles her dramatic scenes with Hank and her fight’s with Lee with dignity and shows a lot of talent and the scene when she talks about the love of her life who drowned in a river reminds one of the scene from Annie Hall when Annie talked about that old man and the free turkey because Diane again mixes it with comedy and drama. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work this time.

Overall, Diane Keaton suffers very nobly in this picture but she never really becomes Oscar-worthy in the process. She unfortunately never tries to defy the sentimentality of the script but rather underlines it with a constant smile of happiness even in her most desperate situations. That way, her character becomes very likeable and accessible but never really three-dimensional. When Bessie hears some devastating news on the phone, she breaks down crying and a great scene for Diane Keaton could be on our way, but only two seconds later, Diane is again smiling from one ear to the other and talks about how happy her life was and how glad she is for everything. Again, it’s a moving scene but a wasted opportunity.

Overall, it’s a charming, engaging, warm and likeable performance that gets

8 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I recently singled this out as one of my five favourite Diane performances. It is sweet. I'd probably give it four, but you are generous in your writeup.

Fritz said...

Diane almost got 4 points from me, but in the end, I decided to give her 3,5.

But even among the women who get 3,5 points, there are differences. Both Katharine Hepburn in The Rainmaker and Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room have 3,5 points, but Kate is closer to 3 points while Diane is closer to 4 points...

Sage Slowdive said...

Hmmm, I never really liked this, but again not a bad performance.

Gunter Weltschmerz said...

There must be something wrong with me, but I've always found Diane Keaton's acting ability to be pretty minimal. The way you describe her here seems pretty much the way she always appears no matter the role.

joe burns said...

I haven't seen this yet. I wonder where'll she place. Depends on what you think of Scott-Thomas.

Fritz said...

Well, I think every actor more or less uses the same acting style in every role (yes, even Meryl Streep). I think the success of the performance depends on how well they are able to portray the character they are playing with that acting style (if that makes any sense).

Gunter Weltschmerz said...

Yes, that makes sense. I've never forgiven her for her performances in the "Godfather" movies, in which I believe she was miscast.

Gunter Weltschmerz said...

Although Gunner Bjornstrand is remarkable in his ability to play a wide variety of personas in the Bergman films. Maybe Hollywood tends toward personality actors - I mean Cagney is always Cagney and he's great.