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Film / Marvin's Room

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Marvin's Room is a 1996 drama film directed by Jerry Zaks featuring an All-Star Cast, and is based on the 1990 play of the same name by Scott McPherson.

The film depicts a bed-ridden old man being taken care of by his daughter Bessie in their Florida home, and totally ignored by his other daughter Lee, who moved to Ohio with her husband 20 years ago and has never contacted her family. Her teenage son, Hank, sets fire to the house and is committed to a mental institution.

Now, Bessie's doctor has informed her that she has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Bessie turns to Lee, who finds out she may have to take over her father's care, so she begins searching for nursing homes. Eventually, however, the estranged family grows close. As Bessie progressively gets worse, Lee comes to terms that it is now her turn to take care of her family.

Marvin's Room contains examples of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: Bessie becomes terminally ill, but Lee takes her place as Marvin's caretaker.
  • Bookworm: Charlie is shown reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea throughout the movie.
  • Compulsive Liar: Hank is implied, but never officially stated, to be this. Early on, Lee relates to Charlotte (Hank's psychiatrist) of how he told his high school guidance counselor that she beats him, which she claims is a lie. Later on, he admits to Bessie that he's lied to her about his shenanigans in the mental hospital.
  • Constantly Curious: On the car ride from Ohio to Florida, Charlie asks Lee some questions about Marvin and Bessie. After a while, Lee tells him to shut up and read his book.
  • Control Freak: Lee towards her two sons. Hank rebels against her, and she even admits to his psychiatrist that she can't control him. On the other hand, Charlie is more obedient.
  • Converse with the Unconscious: When Lee receives the news of Bessie's leukemia, she visits the mental hospital to talk to Hank... who is, inconveniently for her, sedated. When she sees that he's been drugged, she talks to him anyway.
  • Cool Aunt: Because Bessie shows more maternal love towards Hank than his own mother does, he develops a close bond with her in just a few days, to the point where he'd rather stay in Florida with her than return to Ohio with Lee.
  • Disappeared Dad: Lee's ex-husband, Larry, is mentioned but never seen.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling:
    • After Marvin had his first stroke, his younger daughter Lee decided to move far away and avoid the responsibility of taking care of both him and Ruth. His older daughter Bessie decided to take care of them, at the expense of putting her life on hold for twenty years, but she tells Lee and Hank that she doesn't regret it.
    • Lee, however, thinks it's the other way around. She points out that she couldn't take care of Marvin and Ruth because she raised Hank and Charlie all by herself. She then accuses Bessie of being the Foolish Sibling for not caring about her nephews, as she never sent them a birthday present or a Christmas card, and she didn't attend their christenings, despite Lee inviting her.
  • Hidden Depths: When Hank is about to get tested for Bessie's bone marrow transplant, he quietly asks her to stay with him during the procedure — proving that, despite his delinquent nature, he's still a scared 17-year-old kid. Notably, his brother Charlie, who's seven years younger, didn't ask Bessie to stay by his side when he got tested.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Hank burns his house down in the first few minutes, is said to make fun of Lee's degree in cosmetology and terrorize her various boyfriends, and initially refuses to get tested for his aunt Bessie's bone marrow transplant, simply because he doesn't want to. However, he cares enough about his younger brother to take him away from their burning house, his psychiatrist tells Lee that he misses her, and he apologizes to Lee for burning down their house. Through his interactions with Bessie, he eventually decides to get tested.
  • Mr. Fixit: During Lee's second visit to the mental hospital to talk to Hank, she takes note of his dirty appearance, and he tells her that he's been working on an engine. Later on, he becomes fascinated with his grandfather's old tools, and Bessie bequeaths them to him. He eventually fixes Bessie's garage door with his newly acquired tools.
  • Nepotism: The only reason the inexperienced Bob works at the professional center is because his brother, Dr. Wally, personally hired him.
  • Noodle Incident: At the end of the scene where Lee visits an unconscious Hank, the camera zooms out to reveal he was strapped down and sedated for some reason.
  • Precision F-Strike: Delivered by Hank to Lee: "You know what? I could give a fuck about Disney World!"
  • Prodigal Family: After finding from her estranged sister Bessie that she'll eventually have to become their elderly father's primary caretaker, Lee rushes to find any other option but that. She contacts nursing home after nursing home and interviews countless nurses to no avail. Lee has ignored her father and gone no-contact with her sister for over 20 years.
  • Product Placement:
    • During Lee's first visit to the mental hospital to talk to Hank, she eats a small bag of M&M's.
    • Hank wears a pair of black Nike sneakers throughout the movie.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Downplayed. 10-year-old Charlie is unperturbed by Hank burning down their house, and he knows how to light up a cigarette. However, the cigarette is for Hank rather than himself, and overall, he's the more well-adjusted sibling.