Philip Larkin would have loved this movie. It confirms everything dysfunctional about families.
Fighting between siblings is standard. Fighting with parents is what you do when you are 16. This lot are way into adulthood and they’re still at it.
Based on a play by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the script – possibly a mistake – the film doesn’t get out enough.
Stuck in a big house in the country, the theatricality of its construction tightens emotional tension to breaking point. It is not a talkie so much as a shoutie. Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf sounds like a drawing room tiff by comparison.
Meryl Streep plays the matriarch, an addictive pill popper, who’s husband kills himself in a final gesture of intellectual despair. Her performance is another masterclass, worthy of silver.
Her children, now approaching middle age, stay over for the funeral with assorted partners and children. During the next few days a can or worms, representing lifetimes of scandal, regret, anguish, loathing, self delusion and treachery, explodes in the simmering heat.
This rage is loud and static. Relationships splinter under its impact.
Letts’ language and director John Wells’ style is matched by an ensemble of peerless actors.
The most memorable and possibly the least obvious is Julia Roberts, as the eldest daughter, who’s marriage hangs tattered on the wire.
Without make-up her beauty is exposed as fierce and sculptured. She isn’t offered parts like this very often and so grasps this one with such determination even Meryl flinches.