By William Wolf


The adaptation of the award-winning play by Tracy Letts, scripted by the author and directed by John Wells, has a definite movie feeling and doesn’t give the impression of a re-vamped stage work, A great star cast brings this acerbic drama to vigorous life as the screen sparkles with family drama and sharp characterizations, rendering it one of the best and classiest additions to the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival.

Not surprisingly, the foremost dominator of the fireworks is Meryl Streep as Violet Weston, a sharp-tongued female head of the bristling household who is suffering from cancer and takes refuge in drugs. Her husband, Beverly, an alcoholic poet played by Sam Shepard, disappears and a search is on to find him. Streep creates another of her memorable characters, whether in small scenes or huge ones.

But this is not only her show. Julia Roberts is also extremely memorable as Violet’s unhappy, also sharp-tongued daughter Barbara, as are her sisters played by Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis, who add much to the volatile drama. The movie escapes from the household to provide a sense of place in Oklahoma, but the main fireworks occur in the household where the rich dialogue by Letts explodes and provides a framework for the actresses to do their devastating work.

There are other rich characters adding to the colorful tapestry, including Margo Martindale as Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister, and Chris Cooper as Mattie’s husband, to name a few of the more outstanding ones. The entourage is a family from hell, with long-simmering secrets.

Under the direction of John Wells, the result is a model example of how to take a play that bristled on stage, tighten it and transfer it to the screen without making it feel stiff and forced. What emerges is one of the best films of 2013. A Weinstein Company release. Posted November 11, 2013.


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