Although ‘August: Osage County’ is not without its flaws, it is wickedly funny and entertaining. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, Tracy Letts joins an elite group of writers successfully adapting their own baby into a movie for the big screen. Led by Oscar-winning actresses Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, they deliver grandiose performances among a highly impressive ensemble cast. Brace yourself for abrasive language, melodrama and truth-telling to the nth degree. Quite a few movies deal with dysfunctional families but this one hits its mark with one of the most memorable dinner scenes of all time. Director John Wells allows the actors to do what they do best – act, and that’s why it is so enjoyable to watch.
“My wife takes pills. And I drink.” Poet Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd) opens the film with those few words to a young woman (Misty Upham from Frozen River) that he hires to take care of his sick wife Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) before he mysteriously disappears. The Weston clan is drawn to the family homestead on the Oklahoma Plains for a funeral (without revealing too many details). They spend more time fighting with one another than grieving over their loss. The words they dish out to each other are intentionally hurtful. This is a spiteful family with a lot of pent-up anger. At times, it’s tough to take but the family is such a train wreck, it’s difficult to look away. No one is meaner than matriarch Violet. Streep plays her scenes to the hilt and her daughter, Barbara played by Roberts is equally as menacing in a more passive-aggressive manner.
Violet is stricken with mouth cancer and to alleviate the pain abuses prescription medication. As she dishes out insults, Barbara chides, “It’s the pills talking.” Violet lashes back, “Pills can’t talk!” The film is full of caustic one-liners. Whoever thinks words can’t hurt, will change their mind after hanging out with the Weston family for two hours. Barbara is not only dealing with her mother’s problems but she has troubles of her own. Her marriage to Bill (Ewan McGregor) is on the rocks and her 14-year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) is acting out in rebellious ways and growing to resent her mother. Sadly their relationship mirrors her mother-daughter relationship with Violet. Barbara is reunited with her two sisters, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis). Each daughter has coped with their mother’s verbal abuse in different ways.
No matter how chummy everyone tries to get, it always seems to lead back to old family wounds and bitterness. There is one scene where the three sisters are sitting together, enjoying each other’s company and drinking wine. The conversation quickly turns toxic when they start talking about their mother and who is going to be the sister who stays behind to look after her. Ivy is the sister that stayed close to home but is ready to finally leave the nest. Karen is engaged to her sleazy boyfriend, Steve (Dermot Mulroney) and she constantly talks about how they plan to honeymoon in Belize. Steve drives a red Ferrari and when Violet finds out he has already been through three failed marriages, she has a bit of fun with him at the dinner table. Some of it is bitterly funny and some family secrets are brutally shocking. There are a few poignant moments particularly the father-son relationship between Chris Cooper and his nebbish son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch).
What makes ‘August: Osage County’ a film to put on your radar is the remarkable cast and gifted screenwriting. The two standouts are Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. They battle each other like two prize-fighting actresses in the ring. You can tell they had a lot of fun with the material and their performances make you feel privileged to watch them at the top of their game. Check out the official trailer from the Weinstein Company http://youtu.be/6KafreVcaTI.