Despite a few delays and my worry that the film would never be produced, in the fall of 2012 production was underway in Oklahoma. I was fully prepared to have to white knuckle it until Christmas 2013 to see this movie, but the Word on the Streep gods shined down on Minneapolis and the Twin Cities Film Festival last night to provide a lucky few the opportunity of a sneak peek.
The film centers around the women of the Weston family, as three daughters return to their childhood home and their pill-addicted mother (Streep) after their father Beverly goes missing. After we learn of Beverly's death, family secrets and festering grudges come to light. Julia Roberts gives what I consider the best performance of her career as the eldest sister Barbara, and enjoys the most hotly contested scenes of the film, battling it out with her stumbling, rarely fully coherent mom.
Unsurprisingly, Meryl towers above the rest of this superb cast in what will likely go down as one of her most challenging and complex performances. Her Violet, while one minute spewing profanity after slurred profanity, is the next minute tender, quiet and lucid. She dominates the famous funeral dinner scene in a way that made it impossible for me to take my eyes off of her and left me wishing the 20-minute scene were longer.
My favorite moment of Meryl's however is later in the film when she tells her daughters a story about her own mother. I feel here is where we really get a sense of who Violet is and where she comes from. We see the monster reduced to a broken-hearted, vulnerable little girl, perfectly captured by Meryl's nuanced choices.
The film itself is well made. I enjoyed how director John Wells opened up the setting to include the Oklahoma landscape, as it added a great sense of isolation and character. The story very closely followed the original play, despite having pared down a few of the roles. Splendidly supporting Streep and Roberts were fine performances by Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale and Benedict Cumberbatch.
I'll be interested to see what I think of the movie when I see it again in a few months. It's been a challenge for me to objectively describe this film, as I'm very familiar with the original story and have been anticipating it for so long. But I feel I've done it justice. Score it another bravura performance for Meryl, one which I can't imagine won't make the cut for the top five come Oscar nomination morning.