This lumpen adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer prize-winning play is so full of speechifying that it seems indigestible as film-making.
For all the strength of the performances, there is a dispiriting sense of "Masterpiece Theatre" about the project, a self-consciousness that stops the storytelling flowing.
Meryl Streep is in Cruella De Vil mode as Violet, the pill-popping, cancer-ridden matriarch of a rural, mid-western family. The relatives have all gathered after her husband (Sam Shepard) goes missing.
Violet takes a huge, malicious relish in goading her daughters. Every character is harbouring secrets which she has no compunction about exposing. Director John Wells has assembled a formidable cast. Julia Roberts, wearing no make-up, registers very strongly as Violet's oldest daughter and the only one who can stand up to her.
Juliette Lewis is also impressive as the youngest daughter, who has turned up with her very creepy new boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney) in tow.
The drama itself is an unwieldy mix of Chekhovian elements and Dallas-style melodrama.
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