Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Misty Upham, Sam Shepard
Directed by: John Wells
R. 130 mins
A thespian extravaganza if there ever was one, this is a film that delivers in performance, but lacks the pulsing beat of an actual storyline. John Lett’s converts his popular play of the same name into this sour film that revels in the experience of watching a family tear apart from the inside out. Meryl Streep (channeling Liz Taylor a-la Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) plays the matriarch of the Weston family, whose pathways have strayed far apart until a family crisis brings them back to the house they grew up in for some dramatic “truth-telling” and pitch black comedy. While the emotional outbursts are compelling, the antics grow tiresome and there is an endless stream of secrets-revealed, which leaves all parties to blame but very few for the audience to sympathize with. Some may be refreshed by the idea that these characters are so imperfect and in Streep’s case especially, so terrible, but others may feel alienated by this curious tragedy. While it’s hardly the comedy it’s been marketed as, August: Osage County is so unapologetically offensive that one just has to sit back and marvel at the potty mouths on some of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
To it’s credit, the film sets quite the tone and from art direction to production design, there is a clear attention to detail. Filmed on location throughout Oklahoma (Lett’s beloved hometown), the few moments outside of the Weston home are filled with the sights and sounds of the rural Midwest. Inside the Weston home we see a series of rooms, lived-in by generations of this family and whose possessions are of value not because they are especially beautiful, but because they have stood the test of time. The same could be said of all these characters, who seem to be on the verge of collapse throughout the entire film. Could it be the tremendous weight of all the hefty subject matter at play, or could it be all that acting getting them down?
Roberts is compelling as the eldest of the Weston sisters, but many have found her performance to be over-the-top and the same could be said for Streep’s, though most seem to be embracing her tenacity even if it’s a bit campy. Ewan McGregor and Abigail Breslin play Robert’s husband and teenage daughter, but both seem entirely miscast. Juliette Lewis is reliably good as the most free-spirited of the Weston sisters, but the most emotionally engaging performance comes from Julianne Nicholson, whose performance seems the most authentic of them all and whose character seems the most real out of all the sisters who often behave more like vipers rather than women. But perhaps the most memorable of all in Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose motives are simple and sweet; While there aren’t many, his scenes provide the only relief from all the chaotic histrionics.
Overall, the film just isn’t as comedic or as emotionally profound as it could be. It has it’s moments, especially in the last few moments, but there seems to be quite a resounding agreement that this functioned much better on stage, where the melodrama has space to breath. When the credits finally roll, we’re overwhelmed with relief and I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. August: Osage County has merit, but frequently dissolves into a therapy session rather than a cohesive work of film.