Film Review: August: Osage County

Written by Mallory Delchamp

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I’m sure that this goes without saying because we all, as American film-goers know and have known, Meryl Streep is one of the finest (if not the finest) actress of our time. Each movie I have had the pleasure of seeing her in is nothing short of astonishing. John Wells’ August: Osage County is no exception.

August: Osage County, which is based on the play of the same name (written by Homeland’s Tracy Letts), tells the ridiculously dramatic and heart-wrenching story of a family that is violently torn apart after the self-inflected death of the patriarch (Sam Shepard). The family consists of the drug-addicted, cancer patient mother, Violet (Meryl Streep), the cynical daughter, Barbara (Julia Roberts), the all-too caring daughter, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and the ditzy daughter, Karen (Juliette Lewis). Throw in an over-bearing aunt (Margo Martindale), a reckless fourteen-year old granddaughter (Abigail Breslin) and a supporting cast including: Ewan Mcgregor as Barbara’s cheating husband, Benedict Cumberbatch as the quiet, mentally challenged cousin, and Chris Cooper as the easily-pleased uncle and you have yourself a cast of actors and characters fit for a Broadway stage.

The three Weston sisters, (Barbara, Karen and Ivy) have grown apart with time and are all brought back to their childhood in Osage County, Oklahoma after the death of their father. As they return to their roots, they must face their borderline evil mother (Streep) who is dying of mouth cancer. They spend the days following their father’s funeral learning a series of family secrets that ultimately destroy what little faith they had placed in their dysfunctional family. Unlike many family dramas of both the stage and screen, Tracy Letts’ theatrical masterpiece excels at making viewers laugh at situations never deemed comical. The Weston family is so turbulent, violent, abrasive and dysfunctional that as an audience member you chuckle because you aren’t entirely sure how else to handle and process the drama unfolding before your eyes.

August: Osage County also manages to surprise viewers. Just when you think their family situation couldn’t get any worse or dramatic — it does. And, just as you begin to feel as though you understand one of the complex characters and why they act the way they do, Letts throws you a curveball and you find yourself even more confused than you were before. August serves an example of character development at its strongest.

The film doesn’t have a weak link it its cast. Every performer is very aware of the character they portray and it shows through and through. Every scene in the two-hour long film is raw and beautiful. Julia Roberts shines as the headstrong daughter who attempts to battle her mother’s drug addiction. Abigail Breslin plays a character we have seen her play once before (a rebellious teenager trying to make the most of her youth despite her lack of positive adult role models) but still manages to do so convincingly. Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Chris Cooper portray the men who (like the audience) are trying to grasp the dramatic antics of the Weston family. Sam Shepard (who is also a well-known playwright in his own right) gives a brief yet stirring performance as Beverly Weston, the alcoholic father. Dermot Mulroney and the remaining supporting actors mentioned earlier also excel in their performances allowing August to be a joy to watch despite its depressing and hard-to-swallow content.

Bottom line: John Well’s latest piece is a drama. It’s a drama about family, life, loss, and addiction. It’s not for the faint of heart but August: Osage County will easily be enjoyed by any filmgoer who appreciates great writing, great storytelling and superb performances by a generous handful of Hollywood’s best actors and actresses.

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