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Film Review – August: Osage County

3 min read

Family reunions are the best. While gathered around a dinner table we share love, laughter and fond memories of childhood, or funny stories about growing up that remind us that no matter what, through thick and thin, family is what is really important. Unless you belong to this family! Then it’s basically a non-stop onslaught of bitter, hateful insults and shocking revelations of deep, painful family secrets that will make you wish you had been adopted. Not even the dead are afforded a basic right of respect, and their dirty laundry is aired-out in plain sight like everyone else’s.

August: Osage County tells the story of the Weston family, who gather together for a few days following the unexpected death of family patriarch, Beverly.  Joining his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) are their three daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliet Lewis), and their families.  In addition there is Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper), and their somewhat special son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Out of everyone, the oldest daughter Barbara seems to have the biggest axe to grind as she seems to have completely run out of patience with the seriously pill-addicted Violet, who is suffering from mouth cancer and whom she has put through rehab before. On the verge of a divorce from her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), the sparks fly from the moment she arrives as years of bitterness and tension boil just beneath the surface, waiting to explode, which they do. What follows is a sometimes hilarious, often cringe-inducing sequence of scenes where the family hash out age-old feuds, hurl shocking allegations and insults, and basically tear each other from limb to limb.  The secrets and lies unfold in layers, and just when you think they can’t get any more shocking, another bomb is dropped which reveals a whole new dynamic to the family feud.

August Osage County 2

A film like this can’t work without a very talented cast, and August: Osage County assembles a brilliant one, starting with Meryl Streep. She is simply phenomenal as the drug-addicted, mentally unstable, sharp-tongued, spare-no-feelings, and just plain old mean mother Violet. Streep has given us plenty of amazing performances in the past, and she can add this one to the list as one of her best, surely to get an Oscar nomination.  Julia Roberts finally finds (after many years it seems) a meaty role as Barbara, an un-glamorous character she handles superbly, and Juliet Lewis is hilarious as the ditzy daughter Karen. I only felt Ewan McGregor was an odd casting choice, and I found his performance was a bit sterile and one-dimensional.  But all around, the performances are superb, led by Streep and Roberts.

No matter how you feel about your family, you will probably feel a little better about them after seeing this film.  The dialogue is razor-sharp, thanks to a fantastic screenplay by Tracy Letts based on his play, but I feel turned a bit heavy-handed in the end as the family secrets compound to the point of being over-the-top. Nevertheless, the incredible performances of the ensemble cast make it a must-see for 2013.

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