First Hit: Overly dramatic with dysfunctional characters and for a story that started as a black comedy it just stays black.
I’m not sure what it was I was supposed to see; a black comedy or drama. What I saw was a drama that was overly dramatic.
That the story, as presented, was not believable from the father dying (Why did he commit suicide?) to the newly discovered brother, it just seemed like a string of strong dramatic scenes. Violet, the mother, (Meryl Streep), and her three daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) are all together to honor Violet’s husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) who committed suicide.
The dinner with other relatives meeting at the house after the funeral is the time that is suppose to set up everything else in the film, but the way Violet and Barbara dominate the scenes it loses momentum. One character that seemed to find the right tone was Lewis as Karen the youngest daughter. Her looseness, attitude, and philosophy seemed to “get” the black comedy part of the script. Did I feel sad for Ivy? Yes, I thought her predicament of being the “one” who lived closest to her mom and having to be the go-to sister was difficult enough but then the information that her love was misplaced added to this tragic character. From the character standpoint I like her the best.
Streep, seemed to want to play this character as dark as possible with little thought towards seeing anyone else but herself. Just a glimpse of seeing would have helped the film. Her role seemed overly self-indulgent both character wise and story wise. Roberts was good and I enjoyed watching her, but it seemed she was taking Streep’s lead and over darkening her character. Nicholson, was someone the audience could actually care about and I liked her involvement. Lewis was both dark and funny. She was one of the best parts of this film. Margo Martindale playing Mattie Fae Aiken (Sister-in-law to Violet) was another role that seemed to overstep the bounds of the character. I could see her delivering what the director wanted and enjoying it, but…. Shepard was good in his very limited role but there wasn’t a reason for his actions. Tracy Letts wrote both the screenplay and play so there wasn’t a reason why it work from a scripting point of view. Therefore, it was the direction by John Wells that moved this film this way – poorly.
Overall: Not a film I could recommend – it was forgotten the very next day.