Would somebody please give Meryl Streep something happy to do on-screen?
This deserved Oscar-winner is a fine actress one capable of imitating accents and conveying emotions and personality characteristics in a thoroughly believable fashion. But as of late she's been sidled with roles in extremely downbeat dramas.
To her credit, she's good in those parts. But even Streep's talents can't save director Pat O'Connor's disappointing, depressing adaptation of "Dancing at Lughnasa."
Don't be mistaken, Brian Friel's popular, Tony Award-winning stage play isn't exactly a bundle of laughs. However, this leaden film version is so devoid of joy that it makes all other versions seem bright and cheery. Worse, O'Connor's plodding pacing makes what should be a fairly brief film it runs just over 90 minutes seem like a three-hour epic.
You can't blame the terrific cast, however. Streep, Kathy Burke, Catherine McCormack, Sophie Thompson and Brid Brennan, portray a family of sisters living in 1930s Ireland.
The five barely eke out a living with mundane jobs. Kate (Streep) the head of the household, teaches school. Maggie (Burke) and Christina (McCormack) knit gloves. And Agnes (Brennan, reprising her Tony-winning role) and Rose (Thompson) do odd jobs.
A couple of rays of sunshine come into their otherwise drab lives when their brother, Jack (Michael Gambon), returns from a religious mission to Africa, and Christina's one-time flame, Gerry Evans (Rhys Ifans), comes to visit her and their son, Michael (Darrell Johnston).
The celebration is short-lived, though, as a series of mishaps beset the sisters. First, their livelihoods are threatened by a nearby manufacturing plant. And Jack is so addled that he's becoming a nuisance.
As mentioned, you can hardly fault the performers, who really try to exceed the underwritten material (at least for the film).
Burke and McCormack are especially good, bringing needed life to the proceedings, even if it is all for naught.
O'Connor and screenwriter Frank McGuinness completely miss the point of the play as they concentrate on the dreariness of the story for so long that the eventual celebration (from which the movie/play derives its title) seems unrealistic and contrived.
"Dancing at Lughnasa" is rated PG for scattered profanities.