AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
Directed by John Wells
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulrony, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin, Sam Shepard, Chris Cooper
Tracy Letts' play August: Osage County was a powerhouse when it was first published and performed, winning the playwright a Pulitzer. Adapting it to the screen, the play's core themes are kept intact by a fierce cast of mostly modern day legends. While not completely perfect, the dynamic of the movie's material is the utter definition of drama in every sense of the physical term. We all have those crazy family meals full of laughter and arguments. Directed by John Wells, August: Osage County puts a spotlight on what drives us and separates us as we grow.
Set in the plains of Oklahoma, the film opens with a inside look at the lives of the matriarch and patriarch of the Weston family, played by Meryl Streep and Sam Shepard, respectively. Violet Weston (Streep) is in the midst of a fierce battle with cancer. Upon first glance she seems completely overcome by everything around her, but soon enough we learn she's a snake of a woman and the only main reason her family is still in her life is because they are her family. Besides the blood bond, they'd probably all up and leave her. Which is exactly what her husband attempts to do. After he's been missing for a couple of days, daughter Ivy Weston (Julianne Nicholson) calls oldest daughter Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts), who brings her husband (Ewan McGregor) and daughter (Abigail Breslin) to the tiny, crop-filled county of Osage to help take care of their mother. Not long after arriving, the father is found dead. Hereupon we're met with the ultimate setting for family drama, comedy, and everything in between. When tragedy strikes, you never know how people will react. From high-pitched dinners to crashing of plates at lunch, there isn't a moment that isn't full of some type of tension just waiting to be cut with either a very sharp knife or a whooping laugh.
John Wells succeeds here with the assemblage of an incredible cast of performers. Meryl Streep does her best Meryl Streep by completing melting into the slurred and nasty speech of Violet Weston. Not a single syllable is spoken without coming from somewhere inside. Her appearance definitely helps, but it's in Streep's unforgiving approach physically and emotionally that sells it. Julia Roberts is the best surprise here. It's been a while since we've seen her enjoy a role as much as she enjoys this one. While she's being touted in the supporting categories at the awards, the story is really hers for the taking. Margo Martindale plays Violet's sister and has her own secrets she comes to term with. Martindale is always fun to watch. She's the underdog character actress who you recognize when you see her, but she's not necessarily an outfront name. She should be, though. The way she plays off Streep completely defines the depth of the family. Other supporting players give plenty of weight here too, including Benedeict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson, who might have made turned this into her own personal star-turning role.
This is definitely a character movie. It isn't distracted by trying to have the most beautiful scenery or necessarily even a memorable score. The focus on the film is the people and the words they speak. It's easy to see how this was once a play meant for the stage. Each and every word has purpose and Wells' cast takes that into consideration. It's not necessarily new ground as far as drama or cinema is concerned, but it is refreshing to see something that relies only on the power of a word.
Runtime: 121 minutes