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'August: Osage County' draws stirring performances from Streep and Roberts

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August: Osage County

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Today, Dec. 25, marks the official release of the already highly praised "August: Osage County." The Milwaukee Film Festival featured an early screening for a restricted 500 viewers back on Oct. 7 at the Oriental Theater, and Artistic Director Jonathan Jackson predicted it would draw Oscar buzz. The film just released and it already earned Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Meryl Streep as Female Actor in a Leading Role, Julia Robers as Female Actor in a Supporting Role, and Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. It has already won two Hollywood Film Festival Awards and is nominated for two Golden Globes. While the concept and production of the plot is compelling, the real focus of the film is the incredible acting, particularly from Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

"August: Osage County" is a play-turned-film about the Weston family, who goes through loss together after time, distance, and personality flaws have kept them divided. A few weeks after Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard- "Black Hawk Down", "The Right Stuff") hires a live-in cook and caregiver (Misty Upham- "Frozen River", "Dream Keeper") for his cancer-afflicted and drug-addicted wife, Violet, he goes missing, causing an uproar in the family. Meryl Streep ("The Devil Wears Prada", "The Iron Lady") stars as the matriarch of the family with three daughters: Barbara (Julia Roberts- "Pretty Woman", "Erin Brockovich"), Karen (Juliette Lewis- "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", "Natural Born Killers"), and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson- "Tully", "Law & Order: Criminal Intent"). The three sisters reunite in their family home along with their own families and drama, causing a cut-throat funeral-turned-madhouse that both shocks and amuses audiences.

I thought we were having a funeral dinner, not a cockfight.

The film features an all-star cast including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Abigail Breslin, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Christopher Cooper. Each of these critically acclaimed actors portrays characters with huge personalities who only get deeper as the plot develops. It's a testament to the writers, casting directors, and actors that such a distinct group of actors can perfectly pin down radically diverse characters believably within one family. While this is, by no stretch of the imagination, a story of a close-knit, loving Brady Bunch-style family, the entire cast is believable as a family with a world of history waiting to resurface and rear its ugly head.

Thank God we can't tell the future. We'd never get out of bed.

In addition to the already impressive collection of characters, the Oklahoma setting is its own character, in a way. The family reunites with Violet from across the country, each uniquely affected by their surroundings and upbringing. While there are many beautiful, scenic countryside shots interspersed between dialogue and conflict, it creates the paradoxical effect of claustrophobia. The focus on space only makes the family house seem that much smaller and crowded, showing the vast surrounding space through which to either escape or find yourself trapped.

Another paradoxical element of the film is its ability to function both as a hard-hitting drama and a comedy. This is, in no small part, due to the incredible acting and line delivery. While this all-star cast is incredibly suited for their individual parts, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are all that anyone can think about, and rightly so. Streep plays Roberts's brutally honest drug-addled mother who calls upon her broken family when her husband goes missing. Roberts plays the oldest and boldest of the daughters, who faces her mother head-on despite her own family issues and the fact that no one else has the courage to take on such a powerful persona. The two are simply amazing together. Streep has given one incredible performance after the other, always managing to top herself. It's no surprise, then, that she completely and effortlessly embodies yet another challenging character, topping herself once again. Roberts, while undoubtedly another talented actress, was more of a surprise for audiences as she takes on a challenging role, rough-edged role we're not accustomed to seeing her portray. It's an incredible feat to match the talented Meryl Streep in a film, especially with such an impressive list of supporting cast members, but Julia Roberts does just that in "August: Osage County."

The only woman who was pretty enough to go without makeup was Elizabeth Taylor and she wore a ton!

The only notable flaws in the film relate to plot points rather than performance, particularly the ending. Without having to send a "Spoiler Alert", the film has the potential to end well, and would do so, if it weren't for the last few minutes. If "August: Osage County" were to end a mere two or three minutes sooner than it does, it would have a much more powerful conclusion that would resonate much stronger with audiences.

Nobody slips anything by me.

However, two minutes is nothing to overshadow the incredible work of such an impressive cast. There is a lot of drama to take in within each sector of the family, and yet it is most certainly qualified as a dark comedy. A combination of one-liners and outrageous personalities make what might otherwise be pure drama something that audiences can find entertaining and laugh-out-loud funny. This story of a damaged, diverse family features many talented actors, though Meryl Streep is mesmerizing as she throws out the cold hard truth, no matter how painful it might be for others to hear. Julia Roberts has earned her many award nominations for this role in simply being able to match Streep's performance, as both actresses steal the limelight away from so many talented performers.

Life just puts you in a corner sometimes.

For more information on "August: Osage County," visit IMDB or the official film page.

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