The bottom line with “August: Osage County” is simple. The film, which stars Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, with a supporting roster made up of no lesser talents than Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Abigail Breslin, Julianne Nicholson and Dermot Mulroney, is an acting masterclass. However, it is not, as the marketing campaign would have many believe, an out-and-out comedy, nor is it a wholly successful adaptation.
“August: Osage County” which is based on the play of the same title from Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), takes a glimpse into the lives of the women of the Weston family when they are reunited in the family’s Oklahoma home by a family tragedy. Matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) is dysfunctional and sick, but has lost no power to grate on her three daughters, and no sooner are they all together again than the fur starts to fly and the verbal clashing takes off.
The incomparable Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in particular are at the peak of their powers, and the combative relationship between Violet and Barbara (Roberts) propels the majority of all the action and drama strewn out on the screen.
However much the ad campaign made it appear as if the film would afford light-hearted laughs at the craziness that comes with family, “August: Osage County” is not for the faint of hearts. The humor that it does deliver, and there is a goodly amount of it if you’re of the right disposition, is as dark as it gets. Think “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” set among a sparring family of stubborn southern ladies and you’ll get the picture.
As impactfully emotive as Letts’ dialogue and story are, the film is hindered by one great flaw in the adaptation: It still feels undeniably as if we are watching a stage play. It often seems as if no steps were taken to address the question of how action might, and should, look on the screen, as compared to on the stage.
Still, those who don’t mind being put through the emotional ringer to see some of the best in the business strut their dramatic chops with little else to distract from the interaction between characters, will find that “August: Osage County” delivers a powerful experience.