Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 2013. The Weinstein Company, Jean Doumanian Productions, Smokehouse Pictures, Battle Mountain Films, Yucaipa Films. Screenplay by Tracy Letts, based on his play. Cinematography by Adriano Goldman. Produced by George Clooney, Jean Doumanian, Grant Heslov, Steve Traxler. Music by Gustavo Santaolalla. Production Design by David Gropman. Costume Design by Cindy Evans. Film Editing by Stephen Mirrione. Academy Awards 2013. Golden Globe Awards 2013. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
The hit Broadway play by Tracy Letts makes its way to the big screen with fully satisfying results. Meryl Streep lords over the roost of an eccentric (to say the least) Oklahoma family thrown into disarray when her husband (Sam Shepard) walks out of the house and vanishes without a trace. Almost immediately she is surrounded by family from near and far, with her sister (Margo Martindale, outstanding) and three daughters (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, Julianne Nicholson) showing up to offer support. When things take an even darker turn, the combination of these characters plus their men (Dermot Mulroney, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor) and Roberts’ daughter (Abigail Breslin) make for a tinderbox of combinations and conflicts. Streep’s Violet is a genuine piece of work, a foul-mouthed, ornery and explosive woman whose addiction to pills combined with her suffering cancer of the mouth (and how unsubtle is that poetic justice) are only veiled excuses for the venom she spews at anyone who comes near her. When the film works best is when it fully accepts that it is a filmed play and doesn’t mind you knowing it: exchanges at the dinner table, particularly between Streep and a grounded, awe-inspiring Roberts, rivet you to your seat with dialogue that rings in your ears for miles afterwards (“Eat your fish, bitch!”) Flourishes that look to add cinematic expansiveness to a stage bound piece (a run through a hay field, a trip to the doctor) feel like unnecessary additions to what is a perfectly tight collection of character encounters. Its flaws are minor, though, so watch it and wonder at the powerhouse of talent being combined here.