Dancing At Lughnasa was originally a Tony award-winning stage play by acclaimed Irish playwright Brian Friel, and it really should have stayed that way. It feels like a vehicle for Meryl Streep, a picturesque slide-show of rural Ireland, an ensemble close-up character study. But it never really offers a whiff of justification for a trudge down to the multiplex.
Not that there's anything wrong with it. The acting is good (particularly Streep and Burke), the direction brisk, the dialogue lusty and believable. But the complex interpersonal dramas are dwarfed on the big screen, with few subtleties or cosmetics to give the material any cinematic bounce.
The narrative, viewed from Michael's untainted perspective, commentates on the gradual release of a long-stewed cocktail of tension and rivalry: Kate clings to dignity and livelihood in the face of redundancy; Christina tries to wrestle down her feelings for Michael's itinerant father Gerry (Rhys Ifans from Twin Town); Rose (Brennan) is retarded and falling for the wrong man;and Gambon complicates things further with his surreal air of Alzheimer's-addled poignancy.
As the titular Celtic festival approaches and the domestic turbulence reaches critical mass, the women find escape in fantasy, flailing a desperate jig to their crusty old wireless (yes - this film contains Irish dancing). It's a last-ditch snatch at redemption: stark and moving in a just-might-make-your-granny-snivel sort of way. Less effective is the treatment of Rose, which teeters treacherously close to the old Shooting Fish trick of using the, er, mentally exceptional as convenient ciphers for society's indifference.
But everything gels and, if you can muffle the action pangs for 95 minutes, it's an engaging story blunted by the neat siphoning over from the stage.