Based on the play by Ed Gracyzk, the film similarly situates its drama within the confines of a lone dime store; yet within these limitations, Altman balances two distinct periods and a dozen different characters via subtly elaborate diametrical set design.
On its own, the play is actively stifling, interminable, awash in overwrought redneck-housewife clichés that speak to a "truth" that any rational adult accepts as a given, but Robert Altman's film is characterized by a weird friction, as one can frequently sense the director's inventive talent (which far surpasses the playwright's) bumping up against the constraints of the material. The physical, bracingly tactile rhythm that Altman establishes with his superb cast is often virtuosic...
Altman's "roaming camera" of orchestrated pans and zooms makes the claustrophobic space open and lively, and flashbacks to 1955 are shown through the general store's theatrical two-way mirrors. Genuine and artful performances (Pauline Kael wrote of the actresses: "They bring conviction to their looneytunes characters") builds meaning and helps draw out the cause and effect of Graczyk's text through Altman's craft.