To start off, if you've actually read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Jane Smiley, you most likely will be disappointed when you watch this film. I recommend not ruining the experience. If you haven't you may enjoy this film more than the rest of us. I'm not saying it's a bad film, just a bad adaptation.
I can, of course, find no fault with the acting in this film given who is in it. They did the best they could with what they were handed. The film is about three sisters and the relationship they have with each other and their stern, heavy-handed father. It takes place in Iowa, mainly on the family's thousand-acre farm, and centers on what happens to the family when their father hands over the land to the daughters. The two older daughters, Rose and Ginny, played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange, accept the gift without question. The younger sister Caroline, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, has reservations and is cut out of the deal. This divides the sisters and eventually places them on opposing sides of a lawsuit when their father tries to regain control of the land.
In the novel, the subtleties of each of their relationships are given time to grow and develop. You're able to understand a little better the personalities and motivations of these people. The film has none of the depth of the novel, and is fairly one-dimensional in it's telling of this story. The characters all have one emotion: Rose is furious, Ginny is clueless, Caroline is mean, and their father is a crazy bastard. Of all the performances, Lange is given the most room to grow, as Ginny goes from a simple woman to one who is forced to face her past, move through her anger and accept a future she never could have dreamed of for herself.
The story is just not as enthralling on the screen as it was on the page. There's only so much screaming you can take before you don't care and just wish it would stop. When you finally understand why their relationship with their father is this way (he molested Ginny and Rose when they were teenagers), the reason seems trite and heavy-handed. You don't really care because you're not really allowed inside these woman's lives or heads. The film just doesn't come together, the scenes seem random and unconnected. There's just not enough meat on the bones.
It's not that they didn't include everything from the novel. It's just that you're missing the information that's the most important the characters' thoughts, ideas and motivations, which are almost impossible to convey into a movie. Unless you have constant voice-over and nobody wants that. I really wanted to like this film, but I just couldn't. Either read the book or see the movie. Don't do both.