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August: Osage County - Movie Review

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August: Osage County - Movie Review

4 stars

With a swollen cast boasting no fewer than a half dozen A-listers – not to mention an equal number of character actors, there’s a lot of acting firepower vying for attention in John Wells’s August: Osage County. Fortunately for viewers, there’s ample material to go around and plenty of scenery to chew provided by Tracy Letts’s source material that he adapts for the big screen from his Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning stage play of the same name.

August: Osage County is one of those separated-family-rejoins-over-the-loss-of-a-loved-one movies that always provides plenty of uncomfortably awkward situational humor and conversational gracelessness at the dinner table. This one is certainly no different, although you’ve likely never experienced “awkward” or “uncomfortable” quite like this, with foul-mouthed dialogue and excoriating criticism being doled out like candy at Halloween. There’s very little light in Letts’s story and some may find its relentlessly callous black-hearted tone overwhelming at times. But true to that sultry month in the film’s title, there’s no escaping the heat in August.

The film stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, and Juliette Lewis as the Weston family and relatives, brought together on the sweltering plains of Osage County, Oklahoma over a recent family tragedy. Matriarch Violet (Streep), recently stricken with mouth cancer, is addicted to pain killers but never shies from doling out her own heartless brand of agony in the form of brutally pointed criticism directed at her middle-aged daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianna Nicholson), and Karen (Lewis).

While Streep mugs for the camera with her grief-stricken Violet, our sympathies lie with her daughters, especially the eldest Barbara, who comes home from Colorado with her somber14 year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin) and estranged husband Bill (McGregor) in tow.

Middle sister Ivy is resentful because Barbara and flighty younger sister Karen left her with the burden of caring for their poisonous mother. But that might be the least of Ivy’s worries as she eventually discovers that her budding relationship with cousin Charles may be quite a bit more than kissing cousins.

Despite the large number of actors contending for attention, the film gives us ample opportunity to meet every member of family, with each character having at least one significant moment in front of the camera... and everyone delivers. But even with a runtime north of two hours, the film never feels long or bloated. Emotionally overwhelming at times, and tough to watch perhaps, but never long.

As we expect, Streep is the powerhouse here and she, yet again, turns in a blistering, award-worthy performance. Her Violet swings violently back-and-forth from quick-witted family matriarch to acid-tongued monster faster than the time it takes to pop another Valium. Even though she occasionally tips over into hammy melodrama, there’s always Letts’s brilliant script and juicy dialogue to keep her grounded in the reality of family dysfunction. Julia Roberts does some of her best work to date here too, and Sam Shepherd’s opening monologue is nothing short of brilliant and makes us wish he had been given much more screen time.

Don’t look for wide-arching themes or message-laden motifs. You won’t find them here. August: Osage County is simply a fly-on-the-wall observation of caustic family dysfunction. If there is something to be learned, perhaps it’s to understand the real, brutally honest effects of emotional torture and the long-term damage caused by unresolved Mommy issues. Whatever the lesson, one certainty is that John Wells has ensured that you’ll leave the theater thankful that this is not your family.

August: Osage County - Movie ReviewMPAA Rating: R for language including sexual references, and for drug material.
Runtime:
130 mins
Director
: John Wells
Writer
: Tracy Letts
Cast:
Meryl Streep; Julia Roberts; Benedict Cumberbatch; Juliette Lewis
Genre
: Drama
Tagline:
Misery loves family.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Thank God we can't tell the future, we'd never get out of bed."
Distributor:
The Weinstein Company
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 25, 2013
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.

Synopsis: Based on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning play by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County tells the dark, hilarious and deeply touching story of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose lives have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Midwest house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

No details available.

 

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