Friday, January 10

REVIEW: August: Osage County

Directed by John Wells
2013 Drama
2 hours 1 minute
From The Weinstein Company

Meryl Streep
Julia Roberts
Ewan McGregor
Chris Cooper
Julianne Nicholson
Margo Martindale
Juliette Lewis
Benedict Cumberbatch
Abigail Breslin
Dermot Mulroney
Misty Upham
Sam Shepard

Despite the large and impressive cast, the movie is pretty much about a nasty mother and her equally nasty daughter.  If you like Julia Roberts or Meryl Streep, hopefully you will appreciate their remarkable acting skills amply displayed here but you're not likely to care for either one of their characters.  They are both just a couple of... oh wait, children could be reading this.

Based on a play and a screenplay by Tracy Letts (who wrote Killer Joe, which I loved), it concerns the disappearance of a family patriarch and the three daughters who gather at their mother's home to shortly find out he has committed suicide.  And then frame by frame, minute by minute, we observe the fragmentation of a deeply-flawed family.

I must be drawn to these dysfunctional family tales because I lived with one.  Maybe I'm listening for that applause meter that says they win top honors for putting the fun in dysfunctional or maybe I win.  In this screenplay, it's not about the father (in fact little mention is made of him) but about the mother who is dying of cancer and too drugged-out to own her mean-spirited behavior. 

Here, too, was an area I knew a little something about.  Before my father died, I stayed with him and his wife for the death watch.  We knew he was going and it wouldn't be long.  He had brain cancer (Streep's character has mouth cancer, literally and figuratively) and like her character, he had a vicious desire for truth-telling, particularly if he were telling it.  He went through his rolodex a few times, calling up male friends, ex-friends, ex-bosses and business acquaintances and informing them that he had affairs with their wives.  He didn't know that I called back as many as I could and apologized for him.

It was ugly hearing Streep talk to her daughters the way she did, particularly the two who didn't seem to at all deserve it.  The one who gave back all she got in spades was Roberts' character.  One of the most uncomfortable moments was when Roberts lays into Streep that leaves no stone unturned with savage name-calling and unbridled profanity.  Whoa.  I winced through the entire diatribe and there was much nervous laughter and judgment calls in my audience.

I am reminded of other films featuring three sisters (Crimes of the Heart, Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters and The Sisters for starters) with a little Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf tossed in and then updated for today's audiences and no-holds barred sensibilities. Here, however, we have a larger family.  Each daughter brings along a man (and in one case their daughter) and there's the deceased man's brother and his wife.  So that, of course, means more stories, more heartache, more dysfunction.

Roberts is unhappily married to Ewan McGregor (that would never be the case for me), although one wonders why a decent, normal guy like him would want to be with a woman like that.  It would seem she doesn't have a successful relationship with anyone.  Nicholson is in love with Cumberbatch and they plan to run off together despite the fact that they're first cousins and Lewis, who has strayed from the fray, is planning on marrying Mulroney.  Each couple will deal with some testy situations before the film ends.

Once in awhile I like to say, when it applies, that you could save the cost of acting school and simply see this film.  Hands down, there isn't a false note in the acting department.  Streep and Roberts deserve the acclaim they're already being accorded but everyone else shines brightly as well.  It is always fun to see Lewis because no one does spacey better than this actress.  Has anyone noticed that all three actresses playing the daughters have first names that start with J-u-l-i?  Well, I noticed!  Shouldn't I get an award or something for catching that?

Kudos to fairly new movie director Wells for moving his large and impossibly talented cast through their paces.  The camerawork allowed for much intimacy (wonderful closeups) and keeps the claustrophobia often on set pieces at bay.

I had some trouble with some of the rough talk, again, referring particularly to the Roberts onslaught.  I just can't imagine someone talking like that to one's parents (and let's remember, I'm not Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm fame) and I cannot imagine not being kicked out of the house, if not life, if one said those things. 

I might have given this film four stars except for the ending which I found less than satisfying. 

Review of Lone Survivor


  1. Glad to know, sounds though it revolved mainly around Roberts/Streep which doesn't bother me a bit. Do you think the sour vibe was the reason for lack of overall film nominations (besides the two stars nominated)? Or, did the story lack and and was it merely held up by R and S? X..

  2. Oh.. I can't believe this is going to three years!! Congrats!