August: Osage County

August: Osage County photo starrating-4stars.jpgAugust: Osage County won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play in 2008 It’s an actors showcase. The cast assembled is a veritable who’s who of great thespians. Meryl Streep is 65 year old Violet Weston, an aging mother and matriarch. Because she suffers from mouth cancer, she is taking a variety of medications. Prone to mood swings, it’s unclear just how much of her argumentative personality can be blamed on her prescriptions. After her husband Beverly goes missing for five days, several generations of the Weston family converge on the house to offer support.

I enjoy saying that Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put the “fun” in dysfunctional families. There’s some truth to that as there are laughs in Tracy Letts’ adaptation of his own play. His screenplay is amusing but the humor exploits the darkest observations. He mines a most acerbic wit. It can be depressing and touching in equal measure as it focuses on the strong-willed women of the Weston clan.

“Every woman needs makeup,” Violet instructs her ordinary looking daughter Ivy. “The only woman pretty enough to go without makeup was Elizabeth Taylor, and she wore a TON.”

Everyone puts in a fine performance with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts at the forefront. Their back and forth banter is whip-smart. They wield words as weapons to verbally attack one another. As Violet, Meryl Streep saves her revelations when they can hurt the most and then unleashes them at unexpected times. She calls it “truth telling” but she is an absolute shrew of a woman whose nasty temperament is unyielding. Sometimes the malevolence can almost get a bit excessive. Right when you think things can’t get any more dysfunctional, another revelatory bomb is dropped and family members are left to pick up the pieces. Some roles are meatier than others, but there isn’t a weak link in the entire company. A few characters bear special mention: Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson as Violet’s other daughters and Margo Martindale as her sister.

August: Osage County is not a heartwarming drama about family. It’s bitter and caustic, but yes funny too. Tracy Letts’ play is a distant cousin to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with the vitriol multiplied by 10. It can get cruel, but there is just enough humor and honesty mixed in to make this script palpable. There is a is a lot of skill at work here. In the hands of lesser actors, this might leave the audience emotionally cold, but watching this group of incredible acting talent work together is a joy. This ensemble meshes as a well oiled machine. The lines are delivered with such conviction, it becomes mesmerizing. There are moments where people give it back as good as they get it. That fiery intensity keeps you watching, like a horrible accident from which you cannot turn away.

P.S. My pick for best movie poster of 2013.

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17 Responses to “August: Osage County”

  1. I really liked Killer Joe and Bug, so I’m certainly interested in this one, Mark. Sounds good, man.

    • It’s my favorite from him.

      It’s interesting to compare his different scripts. August: Osage County is a bigger, more sprawling story – numerous characters over a longer time.

      There is a feeling of confinement in all of his works however. Given that Oklahoma is physically wide open spaces, that claustrophobia is experienced internally.

  2. Great review, Mark. Can’t wait to see this cast in action. Also, loved Tracy’s writing in Killer Joe.

  3. “I enjoy saying that Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put the “fun” in dysfunctional families”. That’s my favorite line. Classic. I really loved this movie. Layer over layer of problems. Could have been ridiculous but I agree, the class and talent of these actors were phenominal. Of course, Meryl and Julia stood out and should earn nominations for their performances. Even Margo should get an acting nomination. 4 stars.

  4. Great review, Mark. I quite agree. The performances are good, and the humor effective. I think the director makes some missteps, but this is a quality film all the same.

    • I enjoyed your review. I didn’t have a problem with the close-ups. I think movies should be shot differently than a play so I actually appreciated that level of intimacy.

  5. There’s just something about this that does not appeal to me. ALthough the fact that you did recognize the unpleasantness bordering on the excessive makes me think twice about it. Though, I’m still not sure. I don’t want to miss a Meryl Streep performance, but eh. . .

    • …and Meryl was nominated for Best Actress with Julia Roberts getting a nod for Best Supporting Actress. 🙂

      • Now remember Mark, this is the same Oscars that has Bad Grandpa in the running for Best Makeup/Hairstyling. 😀 lol. Not that they don’t necessarily deserve a nod, but. . it may take more than just noms for me to see Osage County. But still, I hear you. Perhaps I will soon.

      • I’m not saying every nomination is justified, but the award has undeniable prestige.

        And for what it’s worth, Bad Grandpa had some darn good makeup. 🙂

  6. I’ve heard from a few people that this film’s dark subject matter can be overwhelming and heavy-handed at points, so I’m glad to hear you thought it had a good mixture of laughs and dramatic moments Mark. This is one of the few main Oscar contenders that I still need to see. It will probably happen in the next couple of weeks. Looking forward to it.

  7. The Movie Man Says:

    I’m glad you liked the movie Mark. It makes me happy to see someone else really enjoyed Roberts and Streep’s electric performances. I just found it to be such an entertaining, dramatic dynamo of a film 🙂

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