The film begins with the narration of Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) saying, “Life is very long - T.S. Eliot.” He says T.S. wasn’t the first person to think it but he gets credit for it because he was the first to write it down.
Cut to Beverly at home at his desk. The narration continues he tells us that his wife, Violet, takes pills; his vice is drinking. He has decided to give his life up to a higher power but finds that it gets in the way of his drinking. Violet (Meryl Streep) calls from upstairs; we see that she has very little hair (from chemotherapy). She murmurs at him from the staircase it is now revealed his narration was dictation given towards Johnna (Misty Upham), a Native American he’s hired to cook and clean. Violet has never met her before; she says hello, tells Johnna’s she’s very pretty and asks her what kind of Indian she is. Violet stumbles around, obviously high. She apologizes to Johnna, telling her she’s taken some medicine. Beverly suggests she goes upstairs and she tells him “Why don’t you go fucking fuck a sow’s ass?” She apologizes again and says she will be sickly sweet. She puts her forehead to Beverly’s but he ignores her. Violet leaves. Beverly tells Johnna that she needs to be driven to Tulsa for her final chemotherapy appointments; she asks what kind of cancer and he says he’s neglected the punch line mouth cancer. When Johnna asks what kind of pills Violet takes, he lists off about eight drugs including Valium, Vicodin, Percodan, Percocet and Xanax. Beverly tells Johanna about his love for books and then tells her they’re his last pleasures, like finding wild onions on the side of the road or unrequited love. He gives her a book to read, for enjoyment. He then quotes, “Here we go ‘round the prickly pear. Prickly pear, prickly pear.” (This is from T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” poem, which he had quoted at the beginning)
The opening credits roll showing various shots of the small Oklahoma town where the story is set.
The phone rings. Jean Fordham (Abigail Breslin) calls out for her mom in a darkened two-story house. She finally finds her asleep on the couch. Her mom tells her, “If it’s your father, tell him to fuck off.” Jean tells her it’s Aunt Ivy from Oklahoma. The mom wakes up and takes the phone call she is Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts). She asks her sister, “What’s wrong?” and then “When?”
A Honda pulls up to the house of Beverly and Violet. The driver is Ivy Weston (Julianne Nicholson). Violet and Ivy have a conversation where Ivy tells her mom that she’s told Barbara their father is missing. Violet is now wearing an obvious wig to cover up her lack of hair; she complains about the Indian that is now living in her home because her husband hired her. Ivy tells her mom that she also called Karen, who said “she’d try to get there.” Violet says she needs Barbara, then asks why Ivy changed her hair and tells her she needs to wear makeup. She says Elizabeth Taylor is the only actress who was pretty enough to not wear makeup and she wore a ton of makeup. Continuing, she tells Ivy she looks like a lesbian and she could get a decent man if she spruced up a bit. Violet takes pills and asks how many she’s taken so far; Ivy tells her she wasn’t counting. Ivy then asks Violet if she’s supposed to be smoking to which Violet replies, “Is anybody SUPPOSED to smoke?” When asked if she’s scared, Violet admits she is and says she’s glad one of her three girls (Ivy) stayed close to home. Outside, Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) drives up. Ivy asks how her husband, Charlie (Chris Cooper), puts up with it; Violet explains that he smokes a lot of grass.
Mattie Fae tells Charlie if he ever left home (like Beverly did), she would wait two days and then set all of his belongings up in a bonfire. Ivy greets Mattie Fae, who tells Ivy that her father has done this before. She goes inside and yells to Violet that she’s sure her husband will come back. Charlie follows behind and says Beverly’s a complicated man, like Little Charles (his son); Mattie Fae says Little Charles has to be smart to be complicated. The two of them complain about the heat and how much they’re sweating. Mattie Fae tells Charlie to feel her back but he doesn’t want to; she opens the curtains to reveal that Beverly has installed a shade to block any sunlight over the last few years.
Barbara is now driving through Oklahoma; the teenaged Jean is in the back, ignoring her, while she complains to her husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor) about how some asshole must have seen the flat, hot nothing and planted his flag. Bill asks if she wants him to explain the creepy character of the Midwest but she tells him, this is the Plains, a state of mind and spiritual affliction like the Blues. He tries to grab her hand but she tells him “don’t.” There is obvious tension between the two.
Charlie asks Johnna for another beer and Mattie Fae says, “God damn it, she’s not a waitress! Get your own beer!” She chastises him for drinking and watching a game on TV while Beverly is missing; he points out that she’s drinking whiskey but she defends it as simply having a cocktail.
Barbara and Bill get to Violet’s house. Jean exits the backseat immediately to smoke a cigarette. Barbara tells Bill he encouraged that, admiring her for smoking at 14 years old because it makes her seem mature. Barbara complains that it’s hot; Bill asks if he thinks her mom turned on the air conditioner. In reply, Barbara tells a story about how her mom once bought a parakeet that died after two days; she raised hell at the pet store and they gave her another one and it died after a day; then the third parakeet she got also died. The pet store employee stopped by to see why the birds were all dying and it was from the heat, even though they were tropical birds that live in the tropics.
Barbara, Bill, and Jean go inside and are greeted by Mattie Fae. Violet rushes downstairs to greet Barbara; she is obviously her favorite.
In the kitchen, Violet tells Barbara how the last time she saw her father, the Indian girl made biscuits and gravy, he walked out the door, that was it. When she woke up the next morning, he had not returned. She assumed he was out drinking but then started getting nervous. She decided to check their safety deposit box because they had an agreement that if something were to happen to one of them, the other one would empty the box. Bill asks if they had a fight that triggered it but she said no. Barbara suggests maybe he needed some time away from her, which she takes offense at, but Barbara points out that marriage is hard; Bill mutters, “Under the best of circumstances.” Violet picks up on this. Barbara asks if anything unusual happened before he left and Violet replies, he hired Johnna; when Barbara asks if she doesn’t want her, Violet replies, “Well, I have an Indian in my home.” She gets in a debate with Barbara about referring to them as Native Americans, suggesting the dinosaurs should be called that if anything. Violet then says Barbara broke her father’s heart when he moved away and points out that Barbara was his favorite. From the kitchen, Johnna and Ivy hear everything. Barbara, Bill, and Violet cross into the kitchen. Barbara defends herself for moving out of Oklahoma, saying that Beverly gave her his blessing. Violet tells her that he was just disappointed in her because she settled, referring to Bill, and that he thought she had wasted her talent as a writer.
Barbara goes upstairs and asks her mom if she’s taking any medication. She brings up all the times the police have been called because of her mom being under the influence of drugs. Violet says she’s not hooked on anything and Barbara tells her she doesn’t care, she just is not going to go through it anymore. Violet says, “I’m in pain because I have got cancer in my mouth and now Beverly’s disappeared and you’re yelling at me.” She points out that Barbara didn’t come when she got cancer but when her father disappeared, she rushes right back. Violet cries on top of the closed toilet. Barbara apologizes. She tells Violet she thinks he took a book and is out drinking, fishing, reading, and maybe even writing.
Cut to a flashback of Beverly untying his rowboat from a dock. Then we see it out on the lake but no one’s inside.
That night, Barbara knocks on Violet’s door to tell her the sheriff is at the front door. Jean is told to go back to bed but watches as Barbara is given some bad news and collapses. Johnna, also outside, is the only one to know Jean is listening in. She smiles at her.
Barbara is brushing her hair to distract her thoughts; Jean is standing behind her. Barbara mentions she has to call Ivy and Karen (her sisters) to let them know. An old country music song blasts from downstairs; they go and see Violet, dancing and singing along to a record she’s put on. She is obviously high. The sheriffs try to talk to her but she just murmurs to herself for a long while.
The next morning, Barbara is riding in a car with Jean while Bill drives. She tells her daughter that the sheriff was her prom date. The day of the prom, his father got drunk and stole his son’s car, went to Mexico. He showed up to her door and confessed he had no way to drive her to the prom. So they got a six-pack of beer and broke into the church, stayed up all night talking and kissing. They get to the lake and Bill exits the car. Barbara tells her daughter to please die after her and find some way to survive. The two exit the car and join Bill to observe the body (we do not see this).
Quick flash of Beverly’s watch and sock being removed in a morgue, of a suit and tie being placed onto him for the funeral (all in extreme close-up).
Barbara, Violet, and Jean ride in the backseat of Bill’s car on the way to the funeral. A red sports car zooms past them. When they arrive, they see Karen (Juliette Lewis), Barbara’s sister, was riding in the car along with her current boyfriend, Steve (Dermot Mulroney). The family all gather inside the church for Beverly’s funeral (not shown).
Everyone drives back to Violet’s house. We now meet Karen, riding alone with Barbara in her car, going on and on about how hard it was to find a good man. Bill and Jean zoom by them, riding with Steve in his sports car. Karen continues on, explaining that she threw herself into her work and met Steve while selling cars. The two get back to the house and Karen is still talking and talking about herself; Barbara reminds her their father just drowned himself. Yet Karen still talks about her relationship with Steve and how great he was to cancel a meeting to be with her at the funeral. She mentions they’re going to Belize on their honeymoon.
Steve stops by a liquor store. While Bill is inside grabbing some wine, Steve asks Jean how old she is, asking if she’s 17; she says, 14. He tells her at her age, he was cattle processing aka working in slaughterhouse sanitation. He tells her he smells something and asks if she smokes pot; she denies it but he ends up telling her she’s in luck because he has some tasty shit. Bill returns, oblivious to their exchange.
Violet and Mattie Fae are going through old photos and Violet says she used to be beautiful. Ivy tells her she still is and Violet replies, “One of those lies we tell to give us comfort. Women are beautiful when they’re young and not after. Men can preserve their sex appeal into old age. Women just get old and fat and wrinkly.” Violet says everyone would be better off if they start telling the truth about these things. She suggests Ivy should try on a dress so she can attract a man; Ivy tells her that she’s not looking for one because she already has one. Mattie Fae and Violet press her to tell her more details but she won’t say anything.
Outside, the red sports car pulls up. Jean exits the car and runs into the house. Steve tells Bill about his business in Florida. Charlie passes them, on his way to pick up Little Charles (his son) at the bus station. Inside, Bill gives Barbara the wine, while Jean turns on the TV to watch the 1925 version of “Phantom of the Opera” on TV. Barbara is irritated because Jean was worried about how late her grandfather’s funeral was going to begin and now realizes it was because she wanted to get home in time to watch the telecast. Steve pretends to be interested in the film to impress Jean but is quickly taken away by Karen who wants to show him the old fort she had in the backyard.
Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets off of a bus and is greeted by his father. He has overslept, explaining the power must have gone out because the clock was blinking when he woke up. He feels very ashamed for missing the funeral but his dad is very loving towards him and tells him it was just a ceremony and what’s in his heart is more important. Still, Little Charles is a vulnerable man and becomes concerned that his mom, Mattie Fae, is mad at him. He begins to cry, saying he knows how his family thinks of him and he’s sorry to let his father down. Charlie tries to assure his son that they all love him even though some of them haven’t gotten a chance to see what a fine man he is yet.
Barbara and Bill bicker as they walk through the backyard to get chairs from the shed she is irritated Jean cared more about “Phantom of the Opera” on TV than her grandfather; Barbara mentions that Bill has failed to instill some character into their daughter and accuses him of having abandoned his responsibilities. It finally comes out that Bill is now sleeping with a younger woman. He says that although he loves Barbara, she has become a pain in the ass and suggests that is why they are separating.
Violet opens a book that Beverly authored, dedicated to her. She smiles to herself. Moments later, she takes some more pills.
Ivy goes out on the porch and greets Little Charles. She leans in to kiss him and he says they’re breaking their rule Ivy explains she Mattie Fae and her mother now know she is seeing someone but she hasn’t told them who. (As Little Charles is the son of Mattie Fae, that would make them first cousins.)
The entire family is now at dinner. Little Charles enters; his mother tells him she wanted to put him at the kids’ table but the family wouldn’t let her. Karen quickly introduces Steve, her fiancé. While trying to shake his hand, Little Charles knocks over the casserole his mother has made. She yells at him. A subtly high Violet finally joins them, asking Barbara to put her old wedding picture on display while they eat. Violet then chastises the men for having stripped down to their shirts and ties despite it being a funeral dinner. They all stand up and put on their jackets (even though it’s been mentioned several times how intense the heat is). Barbara is asked to say grace; she suggests Uncle Charlie says it because he’s the patriarch now.
Charlie leads everyone into a prayer; Steve is busy eating, Jean is irritated, Violet keeps her eyes open to watch everyone, judgmentally. Steve’s cell phone goes off, interrupting. He steps into the kitchen to take the call. Charlie continues he asks the Lord to watch over Violet. As he rambles on and on, Violet gets really annoyed at how loquacious he is. Steve returns before Charlie’s finished; Violet shoots him a look. The prayer ends. Violet asks Barbara if she wants a sideboard now that Violet’s getting rid of a lot of things. Karen keeps hinting that she wants it but Violet only offers it to Barbara and then Ivy. Everyone discusses how much they like Johnna’s food but Violet points out that she’s getting paid. Charlie then asks Jean about being a vegetarian; she tells him, “When you eat meat, you ingest an animal’s fear.” This makes everyone at the table laugh, which annoys Jean. She points out that fear creates a chemical process within us and animals exhibit that while they’re being slaughtered to make food. Charlie and the table continue laughing at her. Mattie Fae says when she sees just pasta on her plate, she thinks it’s fine as a side dish but wonders where’s the meat. Violet reminds her of the old TV commercial, “where’s the meat?” When Karen corrects her, “Where’s the beef?” Violet shouts back “Where’s the meat?” and then cracks up hysterically. It’s becoming obvious that she is high.
Violet criticizes Beverly’s funeral, how everyone talked about him being an author and a poet but nobody mentioned him being an alcoholic or being so drunk, he once pissed his pants during a speech. Steve compliments a poem Beverly wrote that was recited at the service; Violet responds by asking him who he is. Karen explains he’s her fiancé, Steve Huberbrecht. She makes fun of his last name and then chastises Karen for bringing a date to the funeral. Karen reminds her that he’s her fiancé and says they’re getting married in Miami and she would love it if Violet can make it. Violet says she doesn’t see that happening and asks him how many times Steve has been married. He admits he’s been married three times prior and she says, “I had that one pegged; look at him, you can tell he’s been married.” Karen changes the subject, explaining that she was disappointed their old fort had been torn down that she used to use to play Cowboys and Indians. Violet screams at her, “Shame on you,” adding that she actually played Cowboys and Native Americans.
Barbara asks Violet what pills she’s taken but Violet tells her to leave her alone. Charlie pretends to choke on something but then admits it was just a “big bite of fear.” The table all laughs again, at Jean’s expense. Barbara jokes that she sees Jean eating a cheeseburger every now and then and Jean tells her that’s not true and she’s such a liar. Violet says if she ever called her own mother a liar, she would have knocked her God damned head off her shoulders (a hint about the abuse Violet grew up with). Violet then says there’s a will and Beverly left money for all the daughters but Violet and him had previously decided to leave everything to her instead albeit the fact that “they hadn’t had time to get around to it legally.” All the daughters agree, one by one, that it is okay that she gets all the money; Violet then tells them they can have a lot of the old furniture except for the antique things which she might put up for auction but then points out she might sell it to them for cheaper than it would go for at an auction. Having had enough, Barbara tells her, “Or you might never get around to the auction and then we can just have it for free after you die.”
Little Charles tries to change the subject, asking Bill what poems he chose to read at the funeral (since he missed it). Violet interrupts by asking Bill if he wants the sideboard. Bill is confused, as Barbara has already turned it down, but Violet points out that she knows Bill and Barbara are separated. She has picked up on this in the kitchen, explaining “Nobody slips anything by me. I know what’s what.” Violet asks Bill if there’s a younger woman involved and he admits, “Yes.” Violet tells Barbara, You can’t compete with a younger woman and odds are against her. Ivy repeats what Barbara has said earlier, that she thinks women don’t grow more attractive with age. Karen says she disagrees but is interrupted by Violet who says, “No, I didn’t say women don’t grow more attractive I said they get ugly. And it’s not really a matter of opinion, Karen dear. You’ve only just started to prove it yourself.”
Charlie asks Violet why she’s being so adversarial. She says she’s just truth telling and that some people are antagonized by the truth. Charlie tells her everyone there loves her and she says, “Oh, you think you can shame me, Charlie? BLOW IT OUT YOUR ASS!” Barbara says three days ago, she identified her father’s corpse and now she’s supposed to sit there and listen to her mother viciously attack every member of the family. Violet asks, “Attack my family? Have you ever been attacked in your sweet, spoiled life?” She tells Mattie Fae to tell about how they were attacked. Ivy suggests her mother settle down and Violet screams back, “DON’T TELL ME TO SETTLE DOWN! I’m not a goddamn invalid.” She then says Mattie Fae came to her rescue when one of her mother’s many lovers was attacking Violet with a claw hammer and that Barbara knows nothing about attacks and hard times. Barbara says, “We know you had a rotten childhood, Mom. Who didn’t?” Violet adamantly bangs on the table and says none of them know except Mattie Fae. She then asks Barbara if they knew where their father (Beverly) lived from age four to ten a Pontiac sedan with his parents who couldn’t afford a home. She says they rose too high and sacrificed everything for their daughters; Beverly and her were the first in their families to graduate high school and he ended up a poet; but her daughters were just handed a college education and none of them did anything remarkable for a living. She said they have no real problems and they have to make all their problems themselves.
Barbara asks why Violet is screaming at them. Violet responds that it’s just time they had some truth telling around there. Charlie says, “The truth is, I’m getting full.” Johnna says she’s baked pies for dessert. Little Charles stands up and says he has a truth to tell; across the table, Ivy shakes her head and tells him, “Not like this, please.” He makes up a lie on the spot he tells everyone the truth is, he forgot to set the clock and that’s why he overslept. He exits the house, about to cry. Mattie Fae tells Violet she’s given up on Little Charles a long time ago and he can become someone else’s project. Ivy defends him, pointing out his name is Charles. Violet says, “Poor Ivy. She always had a thing for the underdog.” Ivy tells her mom not to be mean to her right now and Violet responds by saying, “Everybody’s got the idea I’m mean all of a sudden. I’m just telling the truth.” Barbara calls her a drug addict and Violet tells her that’s the kind of truth she’s talking about. She agrees she loves drugs and holds up a bottle of her favorite pills. She tells Barbara if she tries to take them away from her, she’ll eat her alive. Barbara responds by jumping up from her chair and trying to wrestle the pills from her mom’s hands. A big fight breaks out between mother and daughter with everyone trying to pull them apart. Barbara manages to get the pills, leaving her mom on the floor, in tears. She then tells everyone they’re going on a pill raid like they used to to search every nook and cranny for any hidden pills and for Karen to call Dr. Burke. Violet says, “You can’t do this! This is my house!” Barbara responds back by roaring, “”You don’t get it. Do you? I AM RUNNING THINGS NOW!”
Cut to pills being flushed down the toilet. Karen asks why Dr. Burke wrote so many prescriptions. Ivy explains she’s got a doctor in every port. The three women go into their mom’s bedroom and see her lying motionless on her bed. Ivy and Karen tell Barbara they’re sorry about her separation.
At the doctor’s office, he suggests their mother is suffering from brain damage and might need to be put in a long-term care facility or that the daughters take care of her. Barbara is livid, pointing out their mom doesn’t have brain damage but that he’s just trying to cover his ass so he doesn’t get sued for writing her so many prescriptions. She throws some bottles at him and says they have more at home as evidence.
Barbara drives her sisters and mom home. Violet demands that she pull the car over so she can throw up. At first, Barbara refuses but finally does. Violet gets out and begins retching; Barbara also steps outside and passively waits but then turns around to see her mom running through the prairie. She chases after her. When she finally catches up, she asks her mom where she was going and points out that there’s no place to go.
When they get home, Karen and Ivy exit the car; Barbara stays inside and apologizes to her mother for losing her temper at dinner. Violet explains that because of the pills, she was spoiling for a fight and Barbara gave it to her. They call a truce. Barbara asks if Violet should go through rehab and Violet says she can’t do that again and points out that Barbara has already gotten rid of all the pills. She just needs a few days to get her feet back under her. Barbara tells her she wants to help but Violet tells her she doesn’t need any help. Violet says she knows once all the talking’s through, she knows everybody will go back to their own nonsense and not to worry about her because she’ll get by.
The three sisters are in the gazebo in Violet’s backyard, bonding over past experiences with their mom’s addiction when Violet was going into the psych ward, she gave a big speech about getting clean but was clenching a bottle of Darvocet in her “cooch.” Karen says they have to give their parents credit for staying together for so long but Ivy points out their dad killed himself. Barbara then asks Ivy if there’s anything going on between her and Little Charles. Ivy says she’s not comfortable talking about that. Barbara says he’s their first cousin and Karen says she shouldn’t consider having children. Ivy tells them she can’t anyway because she had a hysterectomy the previous year. She had cervical cancer but didn’t tell anyone except Charles, which is when they began having feelings for each other. Barbara asks why she didn’t tell them about her cancer and Ivy says she can’t perpetuate the myths of family or sisterhood anymore. They’re just people, some accidentally connect by genetics. Barbara asks when she became so cynical and she says when Barbara and Karen left her alone to take care of their parents; she tells them she is planning on moving to New York with Charles and finally can leave, without any guilt.
They exit the gazebo and find Violet sitting in a dilapidated porch swing nearby. Karen sits down beside her but Barbara and Ivy remain standing. Violet asks them if she ever told them the story of a boy she had a crush on at 13 years old she explains how he had a beautiful pair of cowboy boots that he was proud of and she decided she needed to get a pair to get him to fall in love with her. She found the boots in a window downtown and she prayed for them, rehearsing the conversation she’d have with her crush when he saw her in them. Whenever her mom asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she said she’d give it all up if she could have those boots. Violet’s mother started laying little hints around about a package under a tree that she’d wrapped up, about the size of a boot box. Christmas morning, she ran to the tree and tore open the box. Inside, there was an old pair of men’s work boots, caked in mud and dog shit. Her mom laughed for days. The girls are shocked that is the end of the story. She tells them that her mom was a nasty, mean old lady and that might be where she gets it from.
Barbara wakes up in bed, alongside Bill. She goes outside, watches birds fly overhead.
Ivy goes into the living room where Little Charles is watching TV. Nobody is around. She acts lovingly towards him. He apologizes for almost bringing up their relationship at dinner but he wanted people to know he’s not a loser and he got what he wanted. She tells him she understands and says he’s her hero. Their chemistry is very evident. He sits down at the table and plays her a song he wrote for Ivy.
Mattie Fae enters, interrupting, calling her son Liberace. Charlie enters and Mattie Fae points out their son has been watching TV, adding he watches so much, it’s probably rotted his brain. She continues picking on him, saying too bad there’s not a job where he can get paid to sit around watching TV and that he got fired from a shoe store. Charlie tells Mattie Fae they’re going home and if she says one more mean thing to their son, he’s going to kick her fat Irish ass onto the highway. He asks Ivy and Little Charles to go outside. They do. Charlie then tells his wife that he doesn’t understand why she’s so mean, reminding her that they just buried a man he loved recently and here, a day later, she’s tearing into her own son, dishonoring Beverly’s memory. He then adds, they’ve been married 38 years and he wouldn’t trade them for anything but if she can’t find a generous place in her heart for her own son, they’re not going to make it to 39. He exits.
Barbara has been standing in the kitchen; she approaches Mattie Fae, apologizing for listening in. Mattie Fae asks Barbara if she thinks something is going on between Ivy and Little Charles. Barbara points out it’s true. Mattie Fae says it can’t happen. Barbara tries to defend their love, even though they’re cousins, but Mattie Fae interrupts by saying that Charles is their half-brother. Their father impregnated her (Mattie Fae) and she pretended Charlie was the father all this time. Only Beverly, Mattie Fae, and now Barbara know. She says she doesn’t know why Little Charles is such a disappointment to her but suspects she’s disappointed for him more than anything. Mattie Fae then tells Barbara she paid for the mistake a long time ago but it ends there. Barbara points out, if Ivy found out, it would destroy her. Mattie Fae then tells Barbara she has to find a way to put a stop to it.
Late that night, two voices are heard in the backyard Steve and Jean. He is teaching her how to smoke pot. Johnna wakes up, listens in. Steve asks Jean to “show them to him.” Johnna goes outside to find Steve trying to lift up Jean’s shirt; Johnna attacks Steve with a shovel. Barbara, Bill, and Karen run outside. Johnna says that Steve was messing with Jean. Barbara lunges at Steve but Karen defends him. Karen, Steve, and Johnna go inside. Jean tells her parents nothing went on and begins crying. She asks what the big deal is and Bill says, you’re 14. She responds, yeah, and that’s just a few years younger than you like them. Bill slaps her.
Barbara goes upstairs and finds Karen, who tells her she can do without a speech. Barbara asks where Steve is and she says, in the car because they’re going back to Florida. Karen tells Barbara that maybe Jean has to share in some of the responsibility; she begins to cry, not wanting to admit that her fiancé would try cheating on her. She finishes by saying “Come January… I’ll be in Belize.” Then, completely broken, “Doesn’t that sound nice?” She leaves.
Bill and Barbara watch Karen drive away. Bill tells his wife that he and Jean are heading back to Colorado in the morning. She is silent but then says, “You’re never coming back to me, are you, Bill?” He says, “Never say never.” She says she’ll probably never understand why and he replies, “Probably not.”
The next morning, Jean is driven away. She glares at her mother and rolls up her window, without saying goodbye. Simultaneously, Ivy pulls up. She asks if their mom is clean and Barbara responds, “Moderately clean.” Ivy says she’s nervous and Barbara realizes she’s going to tell Violet about her relationship with Charles. Barbara tries to talk her out of it, pointing out there’s a lot of fish in the sea and she should rule out the one single man she’s related to. Ivy says she loves the man she’s related to. Barbara says, “Fuck love. What a crock of shit. People can convince themselves they love a painted rock.”
They go inside where Johnna is cooking; she tells Barbara it’s catfish. Barbara says, “Bottom feeders, my favorite.” She tells Ivy she’s nearly 50 and can’t go to New York or she’ll break a hip. Ivy says she’s lived in the town, year after year, hoping someone would come into her life (to take her away). Barbara tells her to wipe the tragic look off of her face and eat some catfish.
They go into the dining room. Violet is at the table, smoking. Barbara tells her, “Catfish for lunch.” She calls for Johnna to bring her mom some food. Violet says she’s not hungry. Barbara says, “You’re eating. Do what I say. Everyone do what I say.” Johnna drops off the catfish and says she’ll be upstairs. Barbara tells Violet to eat. She says no. Barbara says, “Eat it, Mom. Eat it.” Violet says, no. Barbara says, “Eat it, you fucker. Eat that catfish.” Violet says, “Go to hell.” Barbara says, “That doesn’t cut any fucking ice with me. Eat the fucking fish.” Ivy tries to interject, bringing up Charles. Barbara tells her to shut the fuck up. Violet asks, “What’s there to talk about it?” Barbara says, “Forget it. Eat the fucking fish.” Violet says, “I’m not hungry.” Barbara shouts “EAT THE FISH, BITCH!” Violet asks Barbara to stop. Barbara finally agrees to let Ivy give her news. Ivy says, “I have to tell you something.” Barbara interjects, “Ivy’s a lesbian.” Violet says, “No, you’re not.” Ivy says, “No, I’m not.” Barbara says, “Yes, you are. Did you eat your fish?” Ivy says, “Barbara, be quiet now!” When Ivy tries to speak, Barbara repeats “Eatyourfish, eatyourfish, eatyourfish.” Ivy stands and hurls her plate of food to the ground. Barbara asks, “Are we breaking shit now?” and hurls her plate to the ground, too. Violet joins in. Ivy tries to tell the news and Barbara interrupts saying, “You don’t want to break shit with me, mutha-fuckah.” Ivy starts, “Charles and I“ and Barbara interrupts, calling Johnna to tell her they have a little spill in there. Ivy tells Barbara to stop it and says “Mom, Charles and I“ Barbara interrupts, “Little Charles. You’ve to say Little Charles or she’s not going to know who you’re talking about.” Ivy tries to tell Violet again, explaining “Little Charles and I…” She tries a second time. Violet finishes her thought, “Little Charles and you are brother and sister. I know that.”
Ivy laughs at this. Violet says, “I’ve always known that. I told you, nobody slips anything by me.” Ivy is confused. Violet says she knew the whole time that Mattie Fae was carrying Beverly’s child. Charlie was oblivious because he smoked too much marijuana. Barbara tells her it’s the pills talking. Violet says pills can’t talk. Beverly was torn up about it for 30 years and she wanted them to know since they might need a kidney one day. Ivy asks why she wasn’t told about this and calls Barbara and Violet monsters. She runs outside, in tears.
Barbara rushes after Ivy to comfort her; but Ivy is headed towards her car, in tears. Ivy says they’ll never see her again. Barbara explains that Mattie Fae told her and she didn’t know what to do. Ivy is mad and Barbara points out that their mom told her, not her. Ivy says there’s no difference and drives away. Barbara chases alongside her car as she drives off the property but Ivy forces herself to ignore her.
Barbara goes back into the house. Violet is still at the table with a lit cigarette. She tells Barbara, “We couldn’t let Ivy run off with Little Charles. That just wouldn’t be right.” She knew all along that they were together, having picked up on it at the dinner. Violet says Ivy will be back because she isn’t strong like Barbara or herself. Barbara asks her mom if she really knew about her dad and Mattie Fae. Violet says, yes, and Beverly knew she knew but they never talked about it. She regrets not bringing it up and wishes she had gotten to the motel to tell him he didn’t need to sulk about ”ancient history.” Barbara asks, “What motel? “ Violet says she called over there on Monday after she got into the safety deposit box but it was too late and he had checked out. Barbara asks how she knew where he was. Violet says he left a note saying he would be at County Squire Motel and she called him, on Monday (he disappeared on a Sunday morning). Barbara points out that she waited until she got her money out of the safety deposit box first. Violet says, “We had an arrangement. You have to understand, for people like your father and me, who never had any money, as kids, people from our generation, that money is important.” Barbara says, “If you could have stopped Daddy from killing himself, you wouldn’t have needed to get into your safety deposit box.” Violet says hindsight’s 20/20. Barbara asks if the note said he was going to kill himself. She doesn’t respond, but then admits, “If I had my wits about me, I might have done it different. But your father and I both, we were…” Barbara replies, “You were both fucked up. You ARE fucked up.” Violet calls her a smug little ingrate and tells her there’s only one reason he killed himself and it was because it was just the two of them alone, abandoned after Barbara left them and that his blood is on Barbara’s hands as much as hers. She asks if Barbara can imagine anything more cruel than to make her responsible? She waited to get to the safety deposit box and would have waited longer because nobody’s stronger than her. Violet yells to the empty house (a la to Beverly watching over her), “Who’s stronger now, you son-of-a-bitch?” Barbara tells her mom, “You’re right, you’re the strong one,” gives her a half hug and then abruptly pushes her away. Barbara exits.
Violet crosses to the front door to find Barbara getting in her truck and driving away. She begins shouting, “Barbara” over and over. Barbara’s gone. Violet now calls out for Ivy. No response, obviously. Violet puts on the same record we heard previously and begins dancing around. She calls for Bev, who she now has forgotten is dead. Losing her wits again, Violet takes off her wig, revealing her lack of hair. She sits on the stairs as the record continues. She calls upstairs for Johnna, whom Beverly hired so Violet wouldn’t be alone after he killed himself. Johnna is upstairs with her lunch; she finds Violet on the stairs and goes down to cradle her. Johnna is the only one that Violet has now.
Driving out of town, Barbara pulls her truck to a stop alongside the shoulder of the road. She gets out and stares at the miles of prairie for a short while. Barbara then gets back into her truck, starts the engine, drives away. Now driving away again, she gets a look of relief on her face and smiles to herself. The truck continues out of Oklahoma and back home to Colorado.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Three sisters are called back home when their father has gone missing; they have kept their distance from their mother because she has become addicted to pills and loaded up on prescriptions after securing mouth cancer. It is discovered that their father has drowned himself. The entire family gets into an awkward conversation for the funeral dinner, led by the high and brutally honest mother who claims she is just “truth telling.” Barbara, the favorite daughter of the three, hunts down all of her mom’s pills and gets rid of them in an attempt to force her to sober up. In the end, the mother’s mean-spirited nature isolates herself from her entire family and she has nobody except the newly hired housekeeper for comfort. Throughout the film, we learn of some of the family’s back stories one couple is going through a separation; one sister barely keeps in contact with the others and her fiancé is sleazy and hits on her 14-year-old niece; and one sister has fallen in love with her first cousin which becomes even more controversial when it is revealed that he is actually her half-brother, the son of her aunt and father.
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