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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Bittersweet Reunion

Marvin's Room on IMDb

Plot Overview

Xmas cardspudTwenty years ago when their father Marvin Wakefield (Hume Cronyn) had his first stroke, Bessie (Diane Keaton) went to Florida “for a while” to care for him as her more pragmatic sister Lee Lacker (Meryl Streep) remained in Ohio starting her own family. They've been out of touch all this time with nary a card sent or received. The dad is tongue-tied, bed­ridden, and barely lucid. “Useless” Aunt Ruth (Gwen Verdon) adds to Bessie's care­taker burden. Lee and her couch potato husband had split up years ago leaving her to raise two sons: now 17-year-old Hank (Leonardo DiCaprio) and thirteen-year-old Charlie (Hal Scandino.)

man on phonephone callRudderless Hank sans any male influence sets fire to his house, neglecting to pick up the princess phone to call it in so it won't spread. Might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, eh? Lee at work gets a call from the cops. Home­less she takes shelter at a local convent. Bessie from her Florida doctor's office places a call there to get her only relatives to come down to be tested for compatibility in a needed bone marrow transplant for her.

We're spared lengthy catching up on the phone. They seem to follow the example of a Scott Spencer character who “maintains a midcentury attitude towards tele­phones, believing that they're for the trans­mission of brief, important messages. The idea of talking on the phone aimlessly and at length because you miss some­one makes as much sense to him as looking at pictures of food because you're hungry” (216.) Or as a Conrad Williams character reflects: “Phones should be banned in the city. If you want to talk to someone, go and see them. It'll get so we lose the use of our facial expressions” (84). The eminently sociable Amish eschew visiting by phone because they can't convey facial expression, body language, and dress code by it. Here these Ohio girls primp and preen for each other, gawk at their mutual sight for sore eyes, and insist on hugging various nephews or whom­ever. Combine that with the catching up, growing up, and decision making, and its the perfect drama for the big screen.


This movie provides a handy illustration of a four-part Bible verse for women on a plan for maintaining a saving grace, that (1Tim. 2:15) “she shall be saved in child­bearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” Faith. Bessie's physician Dr. Wally Carter (Robert De Niro,) a practitioner of nepotism, had great faith in his mental case brother Bob (Dan Hedaya) who liked to play doctor (“Usually Dr. Surabh sees the patients”) and in his hunt-and-peck, flighty receptionist Janine (Bitty Schramm,) when he went on vacation and left them (“He's just new here”) in charge of the office (“He'll get the hang of it.”) You would think he'd be in a hurry to get back to see what damage they'd done, but no, he stopped off at the hospital first. And even then he took his time bicycling. It puts us Christians to shame who pray to a most reliable God and then get nervous about seeing results.

To continue in charity. My 1951–1958 Thorndike-Barnhart Dictionary defines: “charity n. 4. Christian love of one's fellow man.” Such love is discussed by the two sisters:

Bessie: “Oh, Lee, I've been so lucky. I've been so lucky to have Dad and Ruth. I've had such love in my life. You know, I look back, and I've had such … such love.”

Lee: “They love you very much.”

Bessie: “No, that's not what I mean. No, no … I mean that I love them. I've been so lucky to have been able to love someone so much.”

To Hank's ambivalence about getting tested, Bessie tells him, “Hank, you're my nephew and I love you no matter what you decide.” The term charity could properly be used in Webster's sense of: “charity n 1: benevolent good­will towards or love of humanity.” Used in a sentence it would come out like some­thing reporter Gerald Seymour wrote, “there was no fear on his face, or excitement, and no charity. I was pleading with him to find me help, and he stared back at me” (396). Or as visionary Maria Valtorta records in a certain conver­sation of Jesus and his disciples: “if we want to conquer Heaven, we must be perfect like a board which is planed and squared properly. … . “¶There­fore, order and charity. Then, holding those two extremities firm in two vices, so that they may not move, you can work at all the rest” (457/461).

Modern English Bibles tend to substitute the word love for charity, but I lean towards caution. According to Porter G. Perrin, Index to English: The Meaning of Words 3b. Synonyms. A synonym is a word of nearly the same meaning as another. … There are very few pairs of inter­change­able words (192). And according to Fowler, “Synonyms, in the narrowest sense, are separate words whose meaning, both denotation & connotation, is so fully identical that one can always be substituted for the other with­out change in the effect of the sentence in which it is done. Whether any such perfect synonyms exist is doubtful.”

at the libraryIn analyzing this movie from a biblical perspective, love could be used per Webster's definition, “love n. 4 a: unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: (1): the fatherly concern of God for man (2): brotherly concern for others.” But other kinds of love show up, too, in this movie. Per Thorn­dike-Barn­hart there's, “6. a warm liking; fond or tender feeling. 7. a strong liking: a love of books. 8. Colloq. some­thing charming or delightful.” Hank loved his Aunt Bessie well enough, Charlie's love was for his books, and Lee's was her self-centered life back in Ohio. I daresay none of those was a saving love.

Jesus in the skycandlesContinue in holiness. Lee had a temporary residence in a convent where we saw nuns in their habits praying in rows before lit candles and a depiction of Christ, lighted through stained glass. True, holiness is an internal affair, but Catholic emblems lend themselves to visual depiction.

And with sobriety. When on an outing to Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom, Orlando, Florida, Bessie fainted in the sun and “Goofy carried me to Mickey's house.” The Disney staff is trained to render basic medical assistance, and for sure they are required to be sober.

Production Values

” (1996) was directed by Jerry Zaks. It was written by Scott McPherson based on his own play. It stars Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hume Cronyn, Gwen Verdon, Robert DeNiro and Dan Hedaya. Keaton and Streep both deliver. The acting is generally fine. The script is praise­worthy having success­fully converted a stage play to the cinema. The direction is so-so.

MPAA rated it PG–13 for thematic elements and brief language. It keeps up a steady pace. Runtime is 1 hour 38 minutes. There are no extras on the 1999 DVD.

Review Conclusion w/a Christian's Recommendation

This is a chick flick and I'm a guy, but I got choked up at the end anyway, succumbing to its spell. My second viewing I choked on, too much touchy-feely for my taste. It was well done.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years with guidance. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Chick flick. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall movie rating: Four stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quotation was from the Authorized King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Fowler, H.W., A Dictionary of Modern English Usage. USA. Oxford UP. 1946. Print.

Perrin, Porter G. Writer's Guide and Index to English. Chicago: Scott, Foresman & Co., 1939. Print.

Seymour, Gerald. Timebomb, New York: The Overlook Press, 2012. Print.

Spencer, Scott. Man in the Woods. Copyright © 2010 by Scott Spencer. New York: HarperCollins, First edition. Print.

Thorndike-Barnhart Comprehensive Desk Dictionary. Ed. Clarence L. Barnhart. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1951–1958. Print.

Valtorta, Maria. The Gospel as Revealed to Me. Vol. 1. Translated from Italian by Nicandro Picozzi, M.A., D.D. Revised by Patrick McLaughlin, M.A. This 2nd English Edition has now replaced the First English Edition, The Poem of the Man-God. Web.

Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: MERRIAM-WEBSTER. 1984. Print.

Williams, Conrad. London Revenant. San Francisco & Portland: Night Shade Books, © 2005. First edition. Print.