It’s dark days for the Weston family. As if the mouth-cancer diagnosis afflicting tetchy matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) wasn’t enough, her husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard), has gone missing, perhaps permanently. A stream of relatives—sisters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) chief among them—descends on the couple’s dank, exceedingly hot Oklahoma house to pay their respects and parry the painkiller-addicted Violet’s insults with barbs of their own.
The bloom is a bit off the rose with this starry, streamlined adaptation of Tracy Letts’s Tony- and Pulitzer-feted 2007 play. What ran more than three hours onstage now barely cracks two, and the cutting can be felt in the way the often gut-busting bad behavior is privileged over psychological credibility. (Sullen, vegan-knocking brother-in-law Charles, played by Chris Cooper, suffers the most from this divide.) Regardless, every cast member sinks his or her teeth into the red-meat bitchery of Letts’s material: Roberts kills her reading of the especially memorable gibe “Eat your fuckin’ fish, bitch!,” while Streep is, unsurprisingly, a standout as some kind of Kabuki Dragon Queen of Flyover Country. The movie may be all ephemerally simple pleasures when compared to the play’s durable grand statements—but they’re pleasures nonetheless.
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