Director: John Wells
Let's start with the glaringly obvious here. Meryl Streep is AMAZING in this film. I always agree with the acclaim and recognition that Streep gets lauded with (she could literally pull off any role - I'm waiting for her to star in the Oprah biopic personally), but this has to be one of her finest performances. A method actress to her core, she inhabits the very essence of Violet and her physicality is so very striking. With a wig that seems possessed by her motherly power, she fills the screen, seething beneath her enormous hair. But when the wig comes off, when Violet is far and away and riding the highs and lows of her pills, the power is gone and she's left a frail, weak and small old lady. She pendulums between cancer-victim and malicious despot, see-sawing with love for her children on one side and vim toward her difficult past on the other. Unable to reconcile the two, she is left terrorising her own children's lives because her own had been terrorised before. Violet dominates this film and Streep dominates Violet.
But this isn't to say she steals the limelight. Julia Roberts is more than a match for Streep, flashing her acting teeth in a way we haven't seen since Erin Brockovich. With the best lines in the film, her violent, guttural reactions to her mother's cruel accusations are brilliant air-punching moments of audience gratification. The eldest daughter is more than a match for Violet and has no intention of being walked over by her. Roberts gives us a very human and emotive point of entry, plagued though she is by her own problems and pain. It's easy to see why the Academy have singled her out of the very strong supporting cast for her performance in this ensemble film.
The play runs to three hours, with two intervals breaking up the three acts. The director made the wise decision to shed a whole hour in the transition from stage to screen. At two, the drama drives the film at a racing pace, which this kind of material definitely needed. However, this is the one cinematic addition we see in the film. My only criticism of the film at all (and I'm not sure if it's actually a criticism really) is that while we're watching a filmed version of the play, if you plane away the quality of the dialogue and the quality of the acting, is there any real cinematic quality to this film? The set and palate reflect the dark and stuffy lifeless frustrations of the characters within them, but what has the filmed version brought to the table that the stage version could not? Or is this like Meryl's other recent stage-to-screen performance in Doubt, which had little aspirations beyond just bringing the play to a wider audience by adapting it for screen?
For the lovers of character-based drama, this is the film for you. Probably the finest of its sort for many a year, this wonderful drama gives us character after character who pop out from the screen in situation after situation that create crisis after crisis. It's fascinating to watch and completely gripping. You can see the theatrical devices turning of course, with revelations, back-story and characterisation all getting their moments centre-stage, but by ticking every box and ticking them well, they can totally lose you beyond the realms of scepticism and sweep you away in engrossing plain-faced conflict. It's a complete joy to watch.