August Osage County
Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin
Films like August: Osage County just do not come around very often, and an ensemble of this caliber is even more rare. Based on his play with the same title and this script by Tracey Letts (Bug, Killer Joe), August: Osage County is a film that exists completely in an over-the-top world totally rooted in Oklahoma dysfunction. For actors, this is the type of material they dream of acting out, chewing, gnawing, and as some have called it, devouring the words set before them. Whether you find this story obnoxious or abrasive, no one will dispute the range showcased by Streep and Roberts, who completely let loose physically and verbally. It does feel like a play, due to the length of some of the scenes, and the dinner scene in particular; but director John Wells never ever allows there to be a dull or still moment in the entire film.
Following the disappearance of Beverly Weston (Shepard), the entire Weston family is summoned home to support the family’s matriarch Violet (Streep) who, besides apparently now being a cruel widow, is also suffering from mouth cancer, which is ironic. Ivy (Nicholson) stayed in the rural plains of Oklahoma to look in on her parents, while sisters Barb (Roberts) and Karen (Lewis) got out and went on with their lives. “You will come home when your father is reported missing, but not when your mother is diagnosed with cancer”, Violet accuses Barb, whose hatred for her current situation will soon boil over into an unforgettable family reunion.
Casting Streep in this role is a thing of beauty, not restrained by any amount of subtlety or façade; she is allowed to completely act out this wildly destructive character all over the place.
“Thank God we can’t tell the future; we would never get out of bed”, Barb says. This film takes a hard look at a family filled with such hate and anger towards one another that each and every one has pent up hostility just waiting to pour out. Casting Streep in this role is a thing of beauty, not restrained by any amount of subtlety or façade; she is allowed to completely act out this wildly destructive character all over the place, and she does. It’s a thing of cinematic beauty and celebration once again for her achievement as an actress. It’s the type of role that one must award, and if it weren’t for her very recent third Oscar, this would have been the role Streep won it for, and far more deservingly.
Wells (The Company Men) captures life in the boring and hot plains of Osage County, but nothing else rivals these actors and their performances on screen, and he keeps all the focus on them as they come and go in and out of the house, which is steaming with secrets and a lack of air conditioning. Hollywood in 2013, has answered the call for more dynamic female roles, and there is no film more reflective of that than this one.
Underappreciated actress Margo Martindale is also fantastic as Violet’s sister (although she has appeared alongside Streep many times). Oscar winner Chris Cooper is also a standout, but the entire film belongs to the animosity showcased between Roberts and Streep. Roberts once again raises the level of acting in this film, stepping outside her comfort zone and always reminding us that she isn’t just a name, but quite talented. It may not be a “southern film” but it feels and works like one. It’s an instant classic that will be remembered right alongside softer films like Steel Magnolias and Fried Green Tomatoes.
A thing of rare, raw and total acting magnificence.