March 20, 2014 -- I finally got around to seeing this movie about blistering family squabbles and dark secrets, and it is better than expected. It is kind of like a Shakespearean play without the swords, knives and blood on the stage, but there is a corpse.
The acting is superb in this film from a talented cast, including Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, who both got Academy Award nominations for their performances in this film. The actor who surprised me the most was Benedict Cumberbach. I knew he was good, but not this good. His performance as the vulnerable, emotionally stunted Little Charles Aiken stands in stark contrast to the characters he played in the Sherlock TV series, in “The Fifth Estate” and in the latest Star Trek movie. He shows off a decent singing voice, too. Julianne Nicholson (“Kinsey”), who plays Ivy Weston, a cousin to Little Charles Aiken, has an unusally showy role in this film and takes full advantage of it. No surprises from the rest of the talented cast, like Chris Cooper, that old chameleon Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale and Sam Shepard. They all give solid performances, as expected.
The story is a bit of a soap opera, revealing dark secrets from everyone's past and enough character defects to fill a psychiatric ward. If it was nothing but heavy, it would be oppressive and depressing, but there is a lot of humor in this film as well. True, it is dark humor, but very funny stuff, enough to offset the heavy melodrama.
Meryl Streep plays Violet, the chain-smoking, cancerous matriarch of the Weston family. The disappearance of her longtime, long-suffering husband, Beverly (Sam Shepard, and what a character name to be saddled with!) causes her far-flung family to come back to Oklahoma in the hot summer to a house with no air conditioning. As the drama plays out, all these people tear into each other viciously, creating a hot, poisonous atmosphere. A mother, Mattie Fae Aiken (Margo Martindale) even tears into her own son (Little Charles Aiken) until her husband, Charlie Aiken (Chris Cooper) puts his foot down and tells her to stop, or else, in the best speech in the movie.
Women don't get many good roles in Hollywood. It looks like they put all the good female roles into this one film. It is so overloaded with estrogen that it seems like a dark, vicious version of “Steel Magnolias.” The men in the film are a fairly weak lot, but they do show some spine here and there. This is'nt a great film by any means, but it is entertaining and it has some really exceptional performances in it. More than anything, this film is a showcase for actors, and it is loaded with acting talent. This film rates a B.
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