August: Osage County Jan 29, 2014 9:00:55 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jan 29, 2014 9:00:55 GMT -5
August: Osage County (2013)
Directed by: John Wells
Directed by: John Wells
Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, and Meryl Streep in August: Osage County.
August: Osage County's central message, essentially, is if you're a female and a member of the Weston dynasty, you damn-well better have a thick skin and a strong will because you're going to be torn apart and broken a whole lot, often times by your own mother, who is battling mouth cancer and narcotic-dependency. Here is the kind of film that may give you optimism if you think your family is dysfunctional, but, if you're willing to appreciate a display of tremendous acting and strong monologues about family, reliance on others in a time of need, and personal problems, the film is as great as they come.
To get the abundance of actors and characters out of the way, the story takes place during a miserably hot August in Pawhuska, Oklahoma and begins with Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) interviewing a Native American woman as a housekeeper. Right then and there, we are introduced to him and his wife Violent (Meryl Streep), the aforementioned cancer-sufferer. Not long after the two fight in front of the poor woman, Beverly disappears and the entire Weston dynasty is called in a time of uncertainty. Time for role call: Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), Violet's sister, arrives with husband Charles (Chris Cooper). Violet's youngest daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is without a spouse and lives nearby, whereas Barbara (Julia Roberts), her oldest, travels from Colorado with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and 14-year-old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin), despite marital problems amongst the two. Then there's the middle-child, Karen (Juliette Lewis) who comes with Steve (Dermot Mulroney), another one of her boyfriends who she now calls his fiancee (to which he calls his upcoming fourth marriage). Not long after, Mattie Fae and Charles' awkward son "Little Charles" (Benedict Cumberbatch) joins the brigade, as well.
In a time of grief and uncertainty, this dysfunctional family gets together to try and sort things out amongst themselves, and after heart-shattering news, plan a funeral despite many of them not seeing each other in a number of years. Writer Tracy Letts (who wrote last year's intense and unforgettable Killer Joe) smartly allows the film to be character-heavy, rather than plot-heavy, and doesn't hesitate to keep the film grounded in its play-roots. There's no need for theatricalities; some of the best play-to-movie adaptations (Roman Polanski's Carnage, David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross) are such greats because they allowed themselves to be a play-on-screen and didn't feel the need to turn their stories into a particular cacophony of theatrics or set-pieces. What we get is a film that takes place largely in one setting (the family's childhood, old-fashioned Oklahoma home) and several characters that are trying to be good people in the long-run.
Each character gets their own time to shine, from the matriarch Violet, whose drug addiction will eventually find its way to the forefront of the story, right down to precocious little Jean, who is frowned upon for being so grown up by her mother Barbara. Barbara, whether or not she'd like to admit, has become much like her mother, a domineering, often unnecessarily argumentative firecracker with a short fuse. She will be the one that will ultimately handle her mother's fierce addiction to painkillers and downers, while simultaneously struggling to keep her own marriage with Bill alive in the face of a separation. Then between Barbara's potential separation, Karen's umpteenth boyfriend, and Ivy's singleness, we get to hear how in Violet's day a man needed a woman and people stayed with who they began with and there was scarce talk of divorce and cheating.
The generation-gap aspect is one that Letts toys with a lot in this picture, and it makes for a contemplative viewing of how, even in the places not many outside go to look, things change and time moves on. It also helps that John Wells knows how to handle a large cast of character actors, after doing so sublimely in his directorial debut The Company Men, which did the unthinkable - it humanized the white-collar associates and office-workers who lost their job in the 2007-08 recession. Wells does what few directors could do so well and that's paint a large canvas and fill it with well-developed characters who we feel for by the credits.
But the real treat here is watching a number of stellar actors do another extravagant job at playing their roles. Because everyone gets their moment, no name too big or too small gets neglected here and everyone is exceptional. It's almost getting to be a cliche in itself to say Meryl Streep knocks her role out of the park but it must be said. She's given, again, a difficult role - a sometimes fiercely unlikable drug addict who's tough-love approach treads the line of tough-hate. However, Wells nor Letts don't really attempt to make her sympathetic; she's a pretty lowly character, after all, but we come to feel for her when we see how bad her addiction really gets in the end. Julia Roberts and Ewan McGregor work so well as a couple too, only elevated in scenes when Abigail Breslin is thrown in the mix, that you wish an entire film could be fixated on their relationship prior to the events of this particular film. Then there's Dermot Mulroney, the actor who finds a way to work himself into everything and always feels in place, Cumberbatch, who has had a year of being quite ubiquitous, and the sure-to-be-neglected Margo Martindale, who manages to work herself to at not being overshadowed by Meryl Streep in a role where the two are frequently on-screen together.
The only person who comes as close to being as unlikable as she is is likely Barbara, whose personality and happiness almost seems corrupted by her self-indulgent mother. Other members of the family, such as Ivy and Karen, we spend enough time to formulate a small opinion on them, but towards the end, the film becomes a bit more focused on the relationship between Barbara and Violent, which isn't a good or bad thing - it's just a thing.
August: Osage County is what soap operas aspire to be. The setting screams something you'd see on daytime CBS, but the acting and level of character-interest is cut out for Oscar nominations. This is a film that details the bleakness and the often upsetting problems that can plague a large family like this. Similar to Alexander Payne's Nebraska, the film has the potential to be frighteningly to a certain set of families and because it's a rather mainstream film, with high-profile actors, and a sizable release, it's all the more stunning. This is the kind of film you see on the low-key independent circuit rather than the mainstream one. For such a bleak and often upsetting story, it gives me a stunning amount of optimism that Hollywood may finally have the talent, ambition, and desire to produce strong, family-oriented dramas with a real human focus and a biting twist of black comedy.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, and Misty Upham. Directed by: John Wells.