Directed by: John Wells
Based on the Broadway play by Tracy Letts, this film is about a darkly damaged and incredibly dysfunctional family that gathers together upon the notification of the death of their patriarch, and then spend several days in the company of one another as they work out many of their numerous disturbing issues. Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) is a muchly-published poet who is a self-confessed alcoholic. That’s OK, actually, as his wife; Violet (Streep) is a pill-popping hateful bitch that is dying of mouth cancer. Together they have three daughters, Barbara (Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis), and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) each of whom are also damaged in their own special way.
One day, Bev — who is clearly so tired of the life that he is living (and has been living for years) just ups and kills himself. This event brings together the entirety of his clan to learn of his death and to mourn him. As the story unfolds, we learn that Barbara (who is probably the most stable of the group) and her husband Bill (McGregor) are separated, Karen (the flighty, irresponsible one has brought Steve (Dermot Mulroney) “this year’s man” with her, and Ivy is having an affair with her first cousin, Little Charles (Cumberbatch); and that’s just scratching the surface of the many, many issues that are all festering just beneath the surface of this “American” family.
Make no mistake about it. This is an amazing film, rife with outstanding performances by a slew of “A”-List actors, delivering the performances of their lives (yes, not only does the 65-year-old Streep still have the chops to command the screen, but Roberts is way more than just a pretty face, and can act the Hell out of a script). Sure, sure it is chock-a-block full of people you know in real life and hate like blazes, but here, up on the screen, as you watch them go through their endless dance of dysfunctional co-dependency and familial rage, you just can’t help but to keep watching, because you just know that you are in for a treat (mostly that you are not in the room with them and the object of their ire), but because the film is so organically developed and delivered that it becomes an astounding thing.
Robert J. Sodaro has been reviewing films for some 30 years. During that time, his movie reviews and articles have appeared in numerous print publications, as well as on the web. Subscribe to receive regular articles and movie reviews.