August: Osage County
It beats even my family gatherings for verbal mud wrestling.
August: Osage County
Director: John Wells (The Company Men)
Screenplay: Tracy Letts (Killer Joe) from his play
Cast: Meryl Streep (Doubt), Julia Roberts (Closer)
Runtime: 121 min.
by John DeSando
“My wife takes pills, and I drink. That’s the bargain we’ve struck.” Beverly Watson (Sam Shepherd)
Let the acting begin: As if the race had begun to determine the most disaffected member of the most dysfunctional family ever depicted on film, August: Osage County is the most violent film this year without a drop of visible blood.
In order to pull off this Eugene O’Neil-Tennessee Williamsl-Sam Shepherd-like dramatic version of Tracy Letts’ play (Letts is the screenwriter as well), director John Wells needed to have an A-list cast; he does just that. In arguably the best acting of the year, Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the drug-addled schizophrenic matriarch of a family where dinners end up with broken plates and hearts. Although her performance is a tour de force (when are hers not?), the Oscar may elude her this time because her character is so unlikeable, and, well, she eats most of the available scenery.
Heading the rest of the cast is Julia Roberts as daughter Barbara Weston, a soon-to-be-divorced realist absorbing the punches of mom and Barbara’s Pippi-Longstocking-chasing husband (Ewan McGregor) until she almost can’t take it anymore. This is the best acting of Roberts’ career.
As if the challenges were not enough for a Thanksgiving in any of our families, Juliann Nicholson’s Ivy Watson is so vulnerable that she has fallen for first cousin, Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), a liaison discouraged by the family rank and file, whose ethical button is pushed by such irregularity but never their alcoholism and verbal abuse buttons.
The ultra-emotional violence and the pervasive shouting may turn away some delicate-souled audience members, but for me a language lover, sparring at the dinner table is delightful out-of-control wit. Acerbic to be sure, but not dull.
Barbara encapsulates the horror of the family: “Thank God we can’t tell the future, or we’d never get out of bed.”
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com