Jeeze, it's been since the inaugural post of this section on May 21st that I've covered a "Snub." For my second entry, I've chosen 1996's drama Marvin's Room. Meryl stars alongside Diane Keaton and Leonardo DiCaprio in Scott McPherson's adaptation of the play by the same name. Incidentally, this was Meryl's second of what is now five films that were adapted from a play (Plenty, Marvin's Room, Dancing at Lughnasa, Doubt and August: Osage County).
This film is a good case of the what I consider the Academy spreading the wealth in Best Actress. Meryl had been nominated the year before for The Bridges of Madison County. For Marvin's Room she earned a Golden Globe nod for Best Actress-Drama and as part of the cast for SAG. Her co-star Diane Keaton was nominated for the Globe, SAG and Oscar, winning none. In the film Meryl plays Lee, sister to Bessie (Keaton). The two sisters have not seen each other in 20 years, as Lee left the Floridian family to move to Ohio with her husband. Bessie, who now has leukemia, stayed behind to care for their ailing father. Lee pays a visit to have her and her sons' blood tested as a possible life-saving marrow match for Lee.
What I really like about Meryl's performance in this film is that, with the exception of her sort of campy performances as Mary Fisher (She-Devil) and Madeline Ashton (Death Becomes Her), this is the first role where we really get to see Meryl play a serious character who isn't particularly likable. Some may insert Lindy Chamberlain here, but I disagree. People didn't like Lindy's public persona. But in A Cry in the Dark, we get an intimate look and Lindy the woman, and I found her nothing but likeable and someone with whom to empathize. Lee conversely reminds me of a cranky, middle-aged, small-town neighborhood mom. I know the type well. In short, Lee's an incredibly selfish person who doesn't treat her family very well. Yet, Meryl (again) convinces me. Despite me having seen her in countless "nice" roles, I forget it's anyone other than mean Lee.
Of course when there's a story that basically involves two lead women, it's a tough sell to push both for awards. Bessie is the meatier of the two roles. She's the super sweet caregiver who stayed to care for an ill family member, and on top of that, she gets diagnosed with cancer. A bit heavier and a bigger vote-getting role. The film was distributed by Miramax, and in the mid 90's I wasn't really paying attention to things as closely as I do today, so I'm not sure what the campaigning was like then. My guess is that the Weinsteins saw Keaton's role as the better vehicle for awards that year.
The Oscar nominees were as follows:
Brenda Blethyn (Secrets & Lies)
Diane Keaton (Marvin's Room)
Frances McDormand (Fargo)
Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient)
Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves)
Frances McDormand took the award for her portrayal as a Minnesota homicide detective in the Coen brothers' quirky noir piece. Don't hate, but I've never seen the film. I know, I know. This is particularly strange considering I was born and raised in the North Star State. I can remember seeing previews for the film when I was 16 and asking my dad why the characters were talking the way they were. Evidently my Midwestern accent wasn't that strong because their speech seemed completely foreign to me. Neither have I seen Secrets and Lies nor Breaking the Waves. I'm definitely going to make a point of watching Fargo, and with what I've read about Secrets and Lies, I may have to give that one a look as well. The English Patient was super boring the first time I saw it, but that was a huge film that year, again produced by Miramax. Blethyn did win the Globe for Lies, but McDormand won the SAG, so I suppose she would've been the frontrunner. Although if Madonna won the Globe over McDormand for Evita, who knows?
Bottom line: Keaton deserved her nomination, and again, pulling a Thelma & Louise with a double lead nomination is a pretty tall task; it's much more common in supporting. Considering Emily Watson wasn't nominated for the SAG, I say she would've been the odd woman out had Meryl snuck in the top five for Oscar.