Rachel Portman

Marvin's Room

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In 1997, Rachel Portman cracked open the old boy's club of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' film scorist division to become the first woman nominated for an original score award since Daniele Amfitheatrof was cited for co-writing the music for Song of the South in 1947. The Academy's general membership was so shocked to have a woman on the ballot that they chose Portman's score for the otherwise overlooked Emma over perennial favorite Alan Menken, making her the first woman to win a scoring prize in 70 years of Oscar history. But had the family drama Marvin's Room made more of an impression on Academy voters, Portman might have received a second nomination that year. Her work on Marvin's Room is certainly deserving of recognition. The score is a piano-based composition that uses Jesse Levy's solo cello and a swirling orchestral arrangement, which create a mysterious upbeat mood that is somewhat surprising for a tearjerker about a woman's battle with cancer. The music seems to suggest a transcendence of the tragedy, hinting at an unseen hand at work for a higher purpose. The score makes for a pleasantly mellow listen, although it can get a bit repetitive. The CD also contains Carly Simon's "Two Little Sisters (Theme from 'Marvin's Room')." The film's Oscar-obsessed studio, Mirimax, undoubtedly hired Simon in the hopes that her efforts would do for Marvin's Room what her Best Song winner "Let the River Run" did for Working Girl in 1988. No such luck. The song has a very pretty chorus, but you only get to hear it if you can stomach the cutesy verses and saccharine lyrics. If you can't, however, just skip the first track. There's plenty to admire in Portman's score.

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