'I drink, my wife takes pills' is the opening line of the story of a couple who are disappointed with their lives. The husband drowned his self loathing in drink, then drowned himself. A wife, an empty shell of a woman who was incapable of bonding with those close to her, is left with her drugs. She has mouth cancer and a destructive tongue that she unleashes on a daily basis. She, played with perfection by Meryl Streep, is the central character of the play/film. She is intelligent, perceptive, powerful and once a beautiful woman who marries, dreaming of a future with an up and coming poet with a bright future. His star fades all too soon, his solace is drink.
They have three daughters who in the early days lead the good life. One has stayed home (the plain one, who is told to wear make up), one whose marriage is falling apart as the husband leaves her for a younger women and the other (who wears far too much make up), finally finds the man of her dreams to marry, a skirt lifter, who tries to seduce a fourteen year old. Her sister is earth mother and married to a decent man who is the only one who has any respect for the now deceased husband. He is in for a shock when he finds out later in the day of the funeral that his son is sleeping with his sister.
After the funeral the family assembles for lunch. There is an assumption that the drug addled mother, Violet, is unaware of their collective attempts to break the ten commandments. The family home is a crumbling mansion in the middle of nowhere. One by one, to the astonishment of everyone, the mother makes public every ones secrets, well nearly every one. She leaves her sister's vice until the next day. It was the father's wake after all so she doesn't reveal the fact that her sister slept with her husband.