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"August: Osage County" Film Review: Playing Under Gray Skies

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IMP Awards

August : Osage County


In twenty-first century media, profanity is popular. In today's books, it's spewed out as casually and as commonly as if the author were saying "table". Sometimes, such vulgarities are used effectively. Many other times, they aren't. But in every instance its use seems to be part of an aim for real world grittiness,giving the material a badge of "Rated R" to keep the audience's attention and add a bit of spark. Though these words occasionally pack some punch when employed at the right instances, more often than not they're unnecessary. There are better, perhaps more articulate ways to say certain things without resorting to such language.

By this point, this review might already sound like the ranting of a curmudgeon old woman but I assure there is a point coming.

The film in question is August: Osage County, adapted by Tracy Letts from his Pulizter Prize - winning play of the same name. It concerns the crumbling of several relationships within the Weston family following the disappearance of their poet patriarch Beverly (Sam Shepard). Beverly's wife Violet (Meryl Streep), and their three daughters: Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Nicholson), among others, gather at the Weston home following Beverly's disappearance.

Roberts, one of the film's main selling points no doubt, usually has an inherent likability on screen. She is the sort of actress that has to work hard to make her character unlikable. As Barbara Fordham, she accomplishes just that. The character is one of the most repulsive I've come across in some time, a woman who uses her deep-seated bitterness as a blanket and openly resents her drug-addicted mother. She is one of the scattered pieces of a shattered whole and she seems intent on maintaing that role.

Of course, it isn't necessary that as an audience we love or even like the characters of a film, but it is kind of a necessity to at least provide some sense of understanding of why they are the way they are, or what circumstances, however tumultuous, led them to becoming the person we are presently seeing. Roberts does hold her own with Streep, but there is a degree of insincerity to some of her line deliveries. Then again, there's a degree of insincerity to the entire screenplay.

This being a play adaptation, essentially everything ultimately rests on the dialogue and the performances. The film will either thrive or dive because of these two components. Their is a weariness to the script though, a sustained cynicism and anger that keeps the narrative alive, but not very well. Much of this grim attitude is expressed through the aforementioned copious foul language. As the film carries on, the cussing manages to increase to an absurd level, involving random yelling of m-f-that or f-this.

August: Osage County is what you'd call an attractive disappointment. The score by Gustavo Santaolalla is subtle and emotional, achingly mournful at times and downright beautiful at others. The film's cinematographer Adriano Goldman takes full advantage of the Oklahoma scenery as the film looks gorgeous throughout, with a quiet beauty that truly comes alive in every outdoor moment, even if it involves lots of hollering from one or more members of the Weston family. The look and the music are the film's saving graces; outside of Benedict Cumberbatch's and Streep's performances, as "Little" Charles Aiken and Violet respectively, those two items are what keep the viewer going.

Tennessee Williams quality writing isn't required or expected, but interesting characters, however flawed or damaged they might be, are, and there are too many uninteresting ones here to ever to be able to pry this movie apart from its clusters of crud. Perhaps Letts wanted the viewer to feel some sense of profundity from this lengthy work about the broken Westons. There are instances of genuine depth to be found, yes, but they are fleeting and few and too far between. It is possible August:Osage County was designed to give voice to the faint aggravations of a people from a bygone era and present the aggressive and struggling Generation X in the harshest light. Indeed their character themes of loss and longing are at the film's core. The trouble is August: Osage County spends more time pointing to each of them as big words on a chalkboard rather than trying to explain what they mean and why they matter to us. Profanity for profanity's sake is not the way to achieve this. It only gains a glance, not a genuine interest.

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