Country Goes Mainstream





Dancing at Lughnasa features talented cast, but lacks internal exploration of characters

By Rattaya Nimibutr
Daily Cougar Staff

Dancing At Lughnasa

Rating: PG
Rating: ** 1/2

Starring: Meryl Streep, Kathy Burke, Catherine McCormack

Playing: Landmark River Oaks

Dancing At Lughnasa, a new film about five sisters living in the outskirts of an Irish countryside, is based on the strong play written by Brian Friel. In his play, which is brilliantly joyous and heartbreaking, Friel illustrates the struggle and individual life of each sister.

However, the movie version, starring Meryl Streep (One True Thing), portrays the sisters in a respectful manner, but presents a weak version of the story.

Set in 1936, the film features the Mundy sisters: Kate (Streep), the hard-headed oldest sister and schoolteacher; the spirited and witty Maggie (Kathy Burke); Agnes (Brid Brennan), the calm and gentle caretaker of the family; the genuine and simple-minded Rose (Sophie Thompson); and finally the youngest sister Christine (Catherine McCormack), who adores an eight-year-old son by the name of Michael (Darrell Johnston). It is with him that the movie moderately unfolds a tale of charm and struggle.

As the movie progresses, the hardships of the Mundy sisters come to light. They face such trials as scavenging for significant funds to support their family, Michaelís visit from his father and a visit by the familyís brother, whom they hope will save the destruction of the family. Dancing at Lughnasa explores love and values and draws you into the lives of these sisters but not far enough to invoke any heartfelt emotions toward the characters.

Their problems are laid on the table for you, the audience sees their needs and desires, but just when you start feeling something the movie progresses forward.

Despite the weak supporting cast of the film, the acting is satisfactory. Streep portrays the opinionated Kate so that we see the vulnerability behind her tough image. Her strong, emotional performance is accompanied by her impressive Irish accen. 

Then thereís Burke (Elizabeth), of whom we see the laid-back, chain-smoking sister. Burke is charming at points, yet does not take much notice of who she really is or want she really wants. 

The main focus of the film is Streepís character, and Christine (McCormack) and her relationship with Michael and his father. The remainder of the film is dedicated to Rose (Thompson), for her insightful actions, and Agnes (Brennan), who develops a curiosity about her inner self instead of confronting her real problems.

The supporting cast does a fair job filling the spots of missing plot. Instead of one leading role monopolizing the audienceís attention, the roles are given equal weight with a dividing intellect between the sisters throughout the film.

Along with the powerful acting comes the unforgettable dance scene. The Mundy sisters, in an attempt to escape for a brief moment from their problems, join together in a vibrant dance scene that brings the title, Dancing At Lughnasa, to its signature attention.

Despite the powerful cast and a mesmerizing dance scene, director Pat OíConnor (Inventing The Abbotts) does not create an effective enough illusion for these sisters to skillfully move the audience. This passionate drama has its sensitive points, but the lack of exploration into them denies the audience the opportunity to share and understand the charactersí desires.

Dancing At Lughnasa has its moments, but overall the film is weak. Audience members who are familiar with Frielís work and the original play may enjoy taking a stroll down memory lane. In his recreation of the film, OíConnor does not stray far, if at all, from the original script.

However, if you are unfamiliar with the original play, Dancing At Lughnasa might not be the film for you. While it has a great supporting cast, the film doesnít allow you to connect emotionally with its characters, which, correct me if Iím wrong, is the entire purpose of watching films: to experience emotions you wouldnít normally get to feel through the lives of the filmís characters.

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