The holidays mean, for most people, spending time with the family and having awkward family dinners. Despite how dysfunctional your family seems, one look at the Weston family might just make you grateful for your own relatives. With dysfunction on overload, “August: Osage County” isn’t the typical holiday film fare, but it is stuffed to the brim with award worthy performances.
Under John Wells’ direction, “August: Osage County” isn’t a flashy production. Set mostly inside the confines of the Weston homestead, the film centers on the family gathering together when their patriarch goes missing. Adapted from Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play, an all-star cast has been assembled with many career milestone performances.
The flashiest of the roles are that of Violet, the Weston matriarch with an acidic tongue and dripping with venom, and oldest daughter Barbara. As Barbara, Julia Roberts, who has seems to merely be sleepwalking through her roles in recent years, offers a performance that harkens back to her star making turn in “Steel Magnolias.” Has Shelby grown into a bitter, frigid, middle aged woman, you might get Barbara. Going toe to toe with Roberts is Meryl Streep as the family matriarch. Steep, proving once again why she is the greatest living actress, evokes sympathy in a broken character who wreaks havoc and causes pain to all who cross her path.
With so much time spent on the adults in the film, “August: Osage County” falters when it focuses onto Barbara’s teenage daughter (played by “Little Miss Sunshine” actress Abigail Breslin). Moody and upset at the world, Jean is never fleshed out as more than a teenaged stereotype. Her only function in the movie, other than to be openly mocked by the entire family for her vegetarianism, is to show glimpses of Barbara acting similarly to Violet.
Letts, who’s adapted his play for the screen, has taken subject matter that could have left audiences feeling drained and depressed and injected enough dark humor to ease tensions. For those unfamiliar with the play, they are sure to be surprised by some of the developments throughout the film. Wells and Letts are subtle about leaving clues of what is about to transpire without giving anything away. “August: Osage County” is unique in that it keeps intact a nearly half hour long dinner scene for the film. Rather than breaking it up, the filmmakers find a way to keep the uncomfortable scene moving without feeling like it is unnecessarily long.
For better or worse, family are the ones who know you best. With that, they will help each other the most, but their barbed cuts also hurt inflect the most pain. Letts has tapped into that ability in his play and the adaptation here, offering some of the meatiest roles for actresses brought to the screen in recent memory. Upon leaving the theater, you just might be overcome with the urge to hug your family members.