Theatrical review. There may be spoilers.
Set in dusty, sweltering Oklahoma, director John Wells, using an adapted screenplay by Tracy Letts, provides the viewer with the dysfunctional family of the year. Early on we meet the patriarch, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) who is interviewing a woman to care after his cancer-stricken wife Violet (Meryl Streep). Bev is an alcoholic and Vi is a drug addict. Her mouth cancer causes severe burning pain so she has buckets of pills which she's happy to take even if she wasn't in pain.
When Bev turns up missing, Vi calls her 3 daughters and her sister to come help find him. One of the side effects of the narcotics is that they take Vi to a new level of nastiness. And she's one nasty women even when sober. Her oldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) comes from Denver with her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin). Juliette Lewis plays daughter Karen who brings her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Julianne Nicholson is the other daughter Ivy who is having an affair with her cousin Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Vi sister Mattie (Margo Martindale) is nearly a match for Vi in terms of her foul mouth, but at least she's sober most of the time.
The film's centerpiece is the verbal violence zinged between Vi and Barbara. Frankly, it is almost shocking to hear the vitriol coming from Roberts and Streep as these characters. I suspect they tossed out more F-bombs in this movie than they have in their cumulative careers. Some of it is uncomfortably funny I admit, but his film is hardly a comedy, even a black comedy. I was reminded of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" from 1966 where Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton go at it in front of their 2 innocent guests. But here we have a houseful of guests and verbal grenades are tossed in all directions.
As the family disintegrates before our eyes, secrets long kept surface which complicates the situation even further. The film isn't for everyone but it is worth seeing for some terrific performances, especially Streep and Roberts.
We ended up at the theatre watching this because it tickled my fiancee's fancy based on some radio interview or other and walked in knowing nothing about it. We're both glad we went.
The high-level summary of the plot is that there's not much plot. The family patriarch dies and for the next two hours we see the aftermath as the family comes together to grieve (or not) and to dig up old grievances against each other. I don't really need to tell you much more than that because I think on some level everyone has lived through or seen this situation. The only variation is the extent to which your own family gets along. Suffice to say that this family most assuredly does NOT.
The real highlight of the movie lies in the characters themselves and of course with the acting. With a cast like this it is thoroughly impossible to be anything but immaculately portrayed. This collection of characters features all the most delightful archetypes of dysfunction: The harpy shrew of a matriarch who is flawlessly selfish, combative and conniving, the daughter(s) who escaped her and hopped from man to man for validation, the in-law who tries to feel up the teenager and of course everyone seems to have cheated with someone else. The full range of human frailty and family dysfunction is on display.
In the end this was a wonderfully real movie. Some reviewers have criticized this movie as 'over the top' and unbelievable and I assure you that it absolutely is NOT. This sort of thing happens every day and if anything it's slightly less dramatic than reality. It is my sad duty to report that plenty of people live their lives in just this way and it's why not everyone goes home for the holidays. All that said, it's a movie you probably need to be n the mood for.
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Is it Oscar time already? Here comes Meryl Streep's 2013 entry, a film adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play of the same name; AND she has amazing company. This cast is to die for, even though the hateful characters they portray are ruthless, sordid and cruel. (This has been opened in a few select cities in order to qualify for this year's Academy Awards.)
* Meryl Streep ("Hope Springs") Violet is pure venom, even after we hear her life history and try to sympathize, she's just evil. Her drug of choice makes quite a pharmacy! In my opinion, Streep is given too full a rein: The dialog is adequate, we don't need all the histrionics as well. I saw this on stage and it was effective without the extra Methody tics.
* Sam Shepard ("Safe House") Beverly her husband, has had enough. He prefers scotch.
* Julia Roberts ("Mirror Mirror") Barbara was her daddy's favorite, but the apple didn't fall very far from the tree: her tongue is pretty sharp and she is an unyielding sort of woman.
* Ewan McGregor ("Jack the Giant Slayer") Bill is trying to understand the family dynamics so maybe he can understand his wife Barbara a little better.
* Abigail Breslin ("Ender's Game") Jean is only fourteen, but pretending to be a little more grown up sure can be fun!
* Juliet Lewis ("The Switch") Karen didn't come back to the old homestead after she went off to college and THIS time she has hit it lucky!
* Dermot Mulroney ("Joline") Steve is wealthy, drives a great car and Karen will marry him in Florida next January!
* Margo Martindale ("Justified") Mattie Fae is Violet's only sister. They both have secrets.
* Chris Cooper ("The Muppets") Charlie is the nicest in-law of the bunch (his prayers CAN go on a little too long), but if Mattie Fae doesn't button her lip she might not see her 39th wedding anniversary.
* Benedict Cumberbatch ("The Fifth Estate") is stunning as Little Charlie, Mattie Fae's son. This actor is brilliant! This time he's a shy, awkward young man who arrives late, plays the piano and sings.
* Julianne Nicholson ("Boardwalk Empire") is Ivy, the third daughter. She stayed around and took a lot of lip from her heartless mother.
* Misty Upham ("Frozen River") is Johnna, the young woman hired to help care for Violet. Johnna is the calm at the center of the storm but we LOVED it when she picked up that shovel! Born in Montana and raised south of Seattle, Misty has been working steadily since 2002.
This story is about a toxic family and its chemical dependencies, both pills and alcohol that drive people to do what they do. It felt really good to watch Barbara fling all those prescription bottles at her mother's doctor, but I was clutching at straws because there are only three people in the entire story that I can remotely care about. (I always want someone to root for.)
Do NOT see this film if you want relaxing entertainment but by all means SEE IT if you want to see brilliant acting! Captions on the DVD would help me understand Sam Shepard.
on January 13, 2014
This is a specialty interest movie.
For those who enjoy this type of movie, it is well worth watching. For those who don't, I suggest you watch something else.
What is it about?
The patriarch of a family- an author- dies. His funeral brings the family together to their home- in Osage County Oklahoma.
The story unfolds as the tensions amongst the family members come to the surface. The focal point of the tensions is the matriarch of the family, played by Meryl Streep brilliantly. She certainly puts the "vile" into Violet (the name of her character).
Relationships within the family are dysfunctional. The story focuses on the relationships, and the brewing tensions. Some of the interactions amongst the characters are caustic.
The performances uniformly are masterful and faultless, and the transition of the stage play to the screen largely has been achieved successfully. At times, you do have the impression this originally was written for the stage.
If you are familiar with the stage play, this will reward you as a great performance of it- albeit condensed from the full stage version. If you want to see great performances from fine actors playing complex and dysfunctional characters, and portraying the characters in a believable way- again this is rewarding.
For anyone else, it may be something of a chore to sit through it.
Revised: January 26, 2014; April 14, 2014
on January 10, 2014
I don't think I've seen a film competing in the Oscar race this year with just as many powerhouse performances as "August: Osage County." Every actor is cast perfectly in a film where each character is well written, although the movie itself is basically an abridged version of the stage show. On stage, "August" is a night of three acts and three and a half hours. On screen, it's just about two hours long. Scenes were shortened, some were cut, but its essence remains.
Tracy Letts, writer of the stage show, wrote this film adaptation as well. It appears that he didn't mind cutting the film down considerably for the screen. The film is able to avoid becoming a "greatest hits" version of the play. Yet it can be called an abridged version of the stage show, but that's not quite right either. It's its own animal. It can't help but feel stagy but I certainly don't think that detracts from the experience.
"August: Osage County" tells the story of the Weston family. Three sisters - Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) come back home after their alcoholic, yet soulful and brooding father Beverly (Sam Shepherd) goes missing. Their mother, Violet (Meryl Streep) has basically ruined each one of these girls' lives in one way or another. She has cancer of the mouth, but is constantly smoking like a chimney. Each character has their own story going on. Letts keeps just enough of each character in this condensed adaptation to make it feel like everybody is well-examined and written. I still wish it was the same three and a half hours that the play was, but I understand why that wasn't an option.
When a film contains numerous stellar performances like this, a complaint about the running time hardly means anything. Meryl Streep continues to prove that she can do no wrong. You've never seen her play a character like Violet Weston. She's a serial killer, and words are her bullets. When she goes on "truth-telling" rampages, no one is safe. She gives a performance that might remind you of Elizabeth Taylor's classic turn in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?". A great woman whose moral and mental health is very much in question, who is biting, clever and ruthless. A twenty-minute long dinner table scene (which is one of the play's three acts) is absolutely terrific, because this is where everything begins to disintegrate.
Julia Roberts surprised me as well. She's done a few incredible dramatic performances, but I mainly think of her as a rom-com actress. She has a meaty, complicated role in Barbara Weston, and she nails it. Other standouts include Julianne Nicholson, who I'm shocked isn't a bigger star than she is. Margo Martindale is also fantastic as Aunt Mattie Fay. But the truth is there's not a bad performance to be found in all of "August: Osage County".
One thing you must know before seeing this film is that it's absolutely no comedy. Its trailers depict it as a lighthearted family comedy, and that's not really true at all. It's potent as both a drama and a comedy, however it's not lighthearted in the slightest. These are miserable, miserable people. It's relatable in so many ways, but you can remember, hopefully, that you and your family could be worse.
Tracy Letts clearly loves manic, cynical people. There are so many highs, lows and dramatic confessions here, that you are likely to feel emotionally exhausted when it's over.You'll also be in a considerate state of shock when it's all said and done. I sat in the theater, with a large crowd, who didn't start to tinker out of the theater until the credits were almost over. It gave me the same experience that the stage show did, and I consider that to be a high compliment.
One August day, the patriarch of an Oklahoma family goes missing. The crisis rallies the family of Violet and Beverly Weston: Their three grown daughters and significant others, and Violet's sister Mattie Fae and her husband and son. The extended family encounter that follows is a heart-wrenching raking over of old grudges, family secrets and new disputes. The result has been called a black comedy. This reviewer was thoroughly enthralled, but the sensation was more like watching a train wreck: You can't take your eyes off the movie, but you're pretty sure it isn't going to end well.
The movie is an adaptation of a play, and most of the action takes place in and around an Oklahoma farm. The cast is stacked, and the acting is just awesome. Meryl Streep will surely rate an Oscar nomination as Violet, the aging, venomous and drug-addicted mother of the clan. Julia Roberts should also get an Oscar look as the oldest daughter, stepping up to take charge of the family crises while dealing with a brewing divorce and an unhappy teenage daughter of her own. Much of the plot and the dialogue are oriented around the female members of the family, but viewers are encouraged to watch for superbly nuanced supporting roles by Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, and Benedict Cumberbatch.
There is a lot in this movie, but it won't be for everyone. The family dysfunction is often painful to watch, relieved by some moments of humor and by a certain reverence for the Oklahoma landscape. Highly recommended.
John Wells (Shameless, The Company Men) directed this well craft interpersonal drama of real characters and a very real story about a family intertwining their lives back together after a serious tragedy. Taken from an original screenplay by Tracey Letts (Killer Joe) based on his stage play, “August: Osage County” is something everyone should see.
Another tour-de-force performance by Meryl Streep (Doubt, The Hours) once again as she proves she has more layers and colors in her performances and just when you thought you’ve seen her do it all, she’s back again on screen doing something new and fresh. As the Matriarch of the family coming together for her husband’s death, Meryl’s character is struggling with drug addiction, cancer and all with the moral fiber of a cotton ball. Her oldest, and most bitter daughter, is poignantly played by Julia Roberts (Peter Pan, Pretty Women). Julia and Meryl have some amazing scenes together and watching them fight as mother and daughter is electrifying!
Julia also has some incredibly real and funny, but heartbreaking, family issues/scenes with her husband played dutifully by Ewan McGregor (Big Fish, Moulin Rouge). His innocents and passion are clearly what sharpen both the relationship between him and Julia but also their daughter played by Abigale Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Signs).
Now another stand out and amazing performance comes from Chris Cooper (The Muppets, American Beauty) as the husband of Margot Martindale (The Millers, Million Dollar Baby) and the father of Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek: Into Darkness, Sherlock). Chris has one of the most amazing scenes defending his son from Margot and it will literally lift your spirits and make you angry at the same time. Benedict does some amazing shy and persecuted acting with an emotional layer I have never seen him do before. They all are really amazing.
Julianne Nicholson (The Red Road, Boardwalk Empire) plays the middle sister with a very private secret that will literally shake the family tree apart (leaf by leaf) once it’s revealed. Her sister, and the youngest of the three girls is played by Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) who is more than a little ‘out of it’ as well as introducing her new (much older) fiancé to the family who is played by Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Big Miracle).
By the way, Meryl’s husband, although a small role, was subtly, yet masterfully played by Sam Sheppard (Simpatico, Fool For Love). He is the catalyst for many events in this film.
This movie was very real and visceral in all the performances but the amazing dynamics of Meryl, Julia and Chris are just what set this family film on its ear. This film has so much real dialogue and actions, that if you are like most of us, you will literally feel like you are watching your own dysfunctional family right on the screen. “August: Osage County” is an amazing film. Small. Simple. Passionate. Real. Don’t miss it!
on January 19, 2014
***This review contains minor spoilers***
I was surprised to find my local theater almost full for today's viewing of August: Osage County. I had assumed that with the movie being in the second week of its run, and the NFL Championship games on TV, I would have the place to myself. That says a lot about the appeal of Meryl Streep, who is probably the best actor we will ever see. The first thing I noticed was that there was a lot of grey hair present in the audience, and I briefly enjoyed the fact that most audience members were older than me for once.
Despite being listed as a drama, the movie produced plenty of laughs. However, most were in sympathy or shock at the darkness of the subject matter. The laughs came because the movie so keenly observes how dysfunctional families can be. The Weston family takes that theme to the extreme and cannot boast a single member that comes close to what we would consider normal.
If you have seen Eraserhead and remember the scene where Henry Spencer meets his girlfriend's family, you might begin to approach how uncomfortable the atmosphere in the Weston household can be. The opening scene introduces us to Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), who writes poetry when his alcoholism allows. We quickly realize why he feels the need to escape reality when we meet his wife, Violet (Meryl Streep). She's almost permanently high on a cocktail of pills, and has the appearance of a zombie in these opening shots. Her husband decides to leave in the first few minutes of the story, and we eventually learn that he has committed suicide. This sets off an incredible chain of events as family members start showing up to offer their condolences and attend the funeral.
The movie was adapted from a play, and it feels like it throughout the two-hour running time. This is a story which only uses two or three settings, and most of the time we are in the Weston's home. The acting on display is terrific across the board. As much as I admired Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Streep's performance was better. I highly doubt that she'll beat Blanchett on Oscar night because of the nature of the story, but the performance is the best I have seen all year. Despite Streep's towering performance, her supporting cast had a lot to contribute. Julia Roberts deserved her Supporting Actress nod, but I would have to say that every character was portrayed well.
Some of the confrontations in this movie are powerful and memorable. Streep's showdown with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Doubt came to mind a few times as some of the arguments in August: Osage County sizzled and boiled over. One of my favorite scenes involves Chris Cooper saying grace, and in a way it's a microcosm of the entire movie. There are also a couple of major surprises along the way, and I certainly won't reveal them here, but if you're a fan of dialogue and the portrayal of human interaction, you'll admire this movie. That doesn't necessarily mean you will want to see it repeatedly and add it to your home movie collection, but it's worth seeing at least once.
The reason I think it will be ignored at the Oscars is Streep's previous track record and the fact that this story is so unsettling and ugly to experience. That said, the acting took my breath away at times, and I enjoyed seeing the story unfold. I loved listening to Streep, Roberts, Chris Cooper and Julianne Nicholson deliver their lines. I wouldn't consider the movie a fun watch, despite the dark humor, but it does a lot of things extremely well. Like Lincoln, this is one you'll grab from the shelf when you are starving for intelligent dialogue and masterful acting, rather than the sheer pleasure of some movie plots. You'll might well be reminded of chaotic conversations you've had with your own friends or family.
I'll always be amazed at how Meryl Streep seems to become the person she is playing on the screen. It's different every time.
on November 10, 2014
I just want to add something about understanding this movie (and most likely the play upon which it is based) that is not reflected in the reviews I have read here and that is that the pain and suffering embodied in this drama is very true to a kind of pain and suffering you can find probably in the history, even if not recent, of just about any family. It is the kind of suffering that sets in and requires generations to grow out of. It comes from poverty, parental cruelty (emotion, physical and probably sexual abuse) and its hallmarks are everything you see in the characters in this movie from lack of sibling warmth to addiction to problems with intimacy. At its most perplexing is the inseparable combination of cruelity and suffering, sibling connectedness and broken attachment. This is life where nurture is crucified as often as can be done and still the cold mechanics of family marches on. This story very much takes up the work of further illuminating what was shown in John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
There is a central thread of Julia Roberts character growing into a conscious awareness of all of this at great personal cost. This plot thread is perhaps the only thing for the audience to hold onto as a hope for the future of this broken family. This is a hard movie to watch but unless you are too enmeshed in this sort of familial suffering, you will find it compelling. The acting is amazing. If you are not familiar with some of the types of generational suffering depicted here you may find this movie too much and too over the top. However, I am sorry to say, real life shines through here in the sort of concentrated form that good story-telling should achieve.
on April 27, 2014
Tracy Letts' famous play receives a sufficient enough airing out by director John Wells, along with enough sensible script-pruning by Letts himself, to make a very entertaining picture, on the order of rubbernecking a horrible accident on the highway. The cast simply cannot be bettered: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis (nice to see her again -- seems like it's been awhile), Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, and Julianne Nicholson. Oh, and Sam Shepard, too. Of course, Pulitzer Prize-winning plays aren't what they used to be. Just as with the Age of Shakespeare, America's theatrical Golden Age -- when giants like Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, and Sam Shepard himself dominated the boards -- has long passed into history, never to return. And so we get derivative works like "August: Osage County", which borrows from several of those Golden Age authors, Albee in particular, what with all the Big Reveals and Shocking Revelations and so on. (Letts performed as an actor in a revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", which clearly had a huge impact on him.)
Perhaps the first problem with the play is its title. Look, call it either "August" OR "Osage County". Not both. But really the main problem is that it just seems so familiar (cf. those Golden Age playwrights), and Letts, perhaps knowing this, selects "sordid" as his default mode when it comes to behavior, motivations, and family secrets. (Perhaps he should've called the play: "OMG: Drama".) Let it be said at once that Meryl Streep is cleverer than the material: she wisely overplays the role of Vi to the max, chewing scenery whenever there's the slightest opportunity to do so. This is intelligent, because an understated performance would expose this material for the "Lifetime Movie of the Week" it fundamentally is, to say nothing of generating misplaced audience sympathy for what in fact is a terrific villain -- "Vi", for short. Most of the cast wisely follows suit, particularly Roberts as the alpha-sister in the brood. You can tell she's having an absolute ball during that "catfish" scene; I had a ball watching her. A final nitpick: Letts seems to be a little confused as to whom constitutes the "Greatest Generation". The play was produced in 2008; Vi cynically refers to her and her husband Shepard as part of that generation; however, Streep and Shepard are Baby Boomers. When Streep as Vi harangues Roberts about how the people of her time placed inordinate importance on money in the manner of those who came of age during the Great Depression, it doesn't make any sense. Perhaps Letts would've been advised to set his play in the 1970s or 80s, if he wanted to make a critique of "Greatest Generation" sentimentality. In any case, the Boomers were contemptuous of money, at least until they grew up and became yuppies in the 80s.
While I've been rather dismissive of the play's lack of originality, I do thank Letts for daring to suggest that Family with a capital F is not always the sacred institution our culture makes it out to be. Many of these characters would be happier by being less encumbered by family, that's for sure -- and that is often the case for many people out there. Whatever the play's faults, we really didn't need "Steel Magnolias II", and this movie definitely isn't that. 4 out of 5.