Review: August: Osage County
The familial hurricane that is August: Osage County is less a major motion picture, more an outrageous stage play recreated as a soap opera. Based on the darkly comic and award-winning 2008 play by Tracy Letts, August is mostly a chance for some incredible actors to let loose, dig into some tasty material (which includes a lot of vicious barbs and cursing) and either turn you off or blow you away.
When patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) disappears, his three disparate daughters and their respective families come together with their mother in their hot and humid Oklahoma home. Each with problems of their own, combined with the issues and tendencies of their conniving, stubborn mother Violet (played with such vigor and force by the incomparable Meryl Streep), make the reunion a powder keg of emotion.
The fuse slowly starts to burn, and when the entire clan sits down for what should be a solemn, respectful dinner, the bomb goes off.
It is a most spectacular lyrical train wreck, an awkward, painful dinner scene to end all others. The impressive cast of actors, led by Streep and Julia Roberts (in a most fantastic, different role) as her headstrong daughter Barbara, make for such agonizing wonder, there is no way you won’t simultaneously cringe and feel better about your current family state.
Living in a steamy country home on an expanse of empty land, Violet Weston boards up her windows, takes pills, and disparages all the women that come into her path, including a newly appointed caretaker. So when her daughters arrive, she has plenty of disapproval to spread around.
Barbara brings along her well-meaning but unfaithful husband (Ewan McGregor), a curious and rebellious daughter (Abigail Breslin), and just like Barbara, neither of them are innocent or immune to attacks from every which way. There is Violet’s other daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), a naïve and wholesome country girl who’s shyness has led her to a life of singledom, but who’s fortitude is tested early and often by the others in her family.
The third sister is Karen (Juliette Lewis), the ditzy girl who thinks she has it made, living in Miami and running off with a smarmy beau who drives a fast convertible and smokes pot (Dermot Mulroney).
Lastly, to complete this dysfunctional version of the Last Supper, there is Violet’s sister Mattie Fae, an out-of-touch matriarch who feeds off Violet’s loathsome ways, that is, until, it’s directed at her. Her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) is perhaps the only one with his head on straight, while their son, who is to be referred always as ‘Little Charlie,’ is maybe the most sympathetic and sweetest. Played with naiveté and fear by Benedict Cumberbatch, he rounds out this simply crazy family that erupts when brought together.
It’s all some fabulous fun, as that dinner scene never lets up, and it gives way to just a whirlwind second half that you almost become uncomfortable watching. It does indeed feel a stage play; it simply consists of people standing around and talking – but what talking! It’s over the top, sure, with some overacting, but the performances from Streep and Roberts among others are equally agonizing and fun to watch, and must have been a hoot for them to undertake.
Even with a few tangents that show the weakness in translation from page to screen, and some lose of meaning amid the fury of acting, it’s still so sharp. August: Osage County is a treat to watch, and in its indefatigable wretchedness comes unforgettable performances and more than a bit of giddy, guilty joy.