Is it possible to come home again without bringing your personal baggage along with you? Can you leave once again with your sanity intact? That's part of the premise behind the DVD release of "August: Osage County," which showcased how one family survived on its secrets and nothing else. The performances were high class, but the tough material made it hard to root for any of the characters.
"August: Osage County" followed one family coming together for one major tragedy that threatened to destroy them when their secrets were about to be revealed completely. Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) was dealing with a life threatening illness when her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) went missing after one of his regular fishing trips. Her family believed the worst, while Violet was in denial over everything. Her sister Mattie Fae Aiken (Margo Martindale) was lending her supporting along with her frustrated husband Charles (Chris Cooper) who had enough of Mattie and Violet's complicated relationship. Violet's oldest daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) returned home for the first time in years with her estranged husband Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor) and their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Barbara was trying to keep up appearances to prevent her family from finding out that she was separated from her husband after he fell in love with another woman. Jean was engaged in an appropriate relationship with her Aunt Karen's (Juliette Lewis) fiance Steve (Dermot Mulroney) that could cause trouble for everyone involved. Barbara's other sister Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) was so desperate to leave her mother's grasp that she got involved in a questionable relationship with Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) that could hurt everyone involved. Will the Westons comes together when news of Beverly's fate is revealed or will it blow them apart for good?
In terms of questions, the movie answered all of them for the most; even though some of the answers often left a bad taste for viewers. Despite a high class cast of Hollywood stars, the movie was populated with some of the most people involved in the most uncomfortable of situations. A prime example would be the story involving Nicholson's Ivy and her secret romance with Cumberbatch's Little Charles, which was controversial on every level. On the surface, the characters were cousins that were involved in a romantic relationship based on their mutual need for affection. When Mattie's big secret came out, Ivy and Little Charles were the ones destined for a world of hurt. Nicholson and Cumberbatch did their best to make viewers understand why their characters would get involved in an incestuous relationship, but their best efforts couldn't make viewers forget their discomfort over the story. What also hurt the movie was that there were too characters with too many colorful problems to the point where not everyone had a fully developed storyline. The movie's biggest casualty was Lewis' lively Karen who had the potential to have a great story as a woman who traded on her looks for so long that she often overlooked her preference of picking up questionable romantic partners. It's just a shame that the movie didn't go further into examining the character any further. It also didn't help that the movie's main characters were ultimately hard to root for in the end. Roberts and Streep played characters who were both cut from the same cloth as they alienated all of their loved ones without truly meaning to do so. Only time will tell if the characters could earn forgiveness or remain alone for the rest of their lives.
As for breakout performances, Roberts and Streep led the pack as their characters had the most screentime overall and the loudest arguments. Roberts' Barbara was a huge departure from her usual sunnier roles as the often angry Barbara who made every decision based on an impulse. She expressed her character's sadness and heartbreak without saying a word or gesture. Roberts' strongest scene came after Barbara was pushed once too far by Streep's abrasive Violet. She ended up lashing out at her character's mother by physically assaulting her and going for broke as she attacked her. Sure, the scene was an extreme reaction to everything, but it was a perfect example of how extreme measures can often be taken to cope with extreme situations. It also helped that Roberts and Streep had a strong on-screen rapport that allowed both characters to love and hate each other at the same time. Streep, on the other hand, had the challenging task of playing a polarizing character who took over the screen and often alienated everyone at the same time. She embodied Violet with the right balance of anger, passion, and dark comedy as she charged her way through her family's secrets for reasons only known to her. Streep's strongest scene came towards the end of the film when Violet was forced to face her new reality and find a way to move past her mistakes. She made Violet a fascinating character to watch, even though the character was completely unlikable in the end. Now, that's no small feat.
Verdict: The cast delivered top notch performances, but the tense material occasionally made it hard to swallow at times. A few of the stories were even a little too uncomfortable to watch.
DVD Score: 2 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: R
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)