Spending time with the family can be tough. Especially if they’re as dysfunctional as many families can be. Holiday’s can be just as stressful as joyful because you’re forced to spend time with these very same people. But the familial trouble that occurs with the Weston family in John Wells’ new film, August: Osage County, makes any of our families issues seem like child’s play. Tracy Letts, who wrote the Pultzier Prize winning play that the film is based off of, adapts the play for the screen as well.
Out in Osage County, Oklahoma, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) and Violet (Meryl Streep) are the head of the family. Only Violet is suffering from mouth cancer and has become addicted to a wide selection of pills. Then there’s Beverly, who has a drinking problem. Beverly recently hired a Native American girl named Johnna (Misty Upham) to act as a caregiver for Violet. Immediately upon meeting Violet we get a sense that she is a tough person to deal with, a grating, intimidating presence, with zero filter.
One day, Beverly goes missing, sending Violet in a panic. This sends the entire Weston family out to Oklahoma to gather to try and provide Violet with some emotional support. This includes Violet’s trio of daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), and Karen (Juliette Lewis). Accompanying Barbara is her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their teenage daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin), and accompanying Karen is her hotshot new fiance, Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Rounding out the rest of the family is Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and their clumsy son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Some cast, huh?
The family comes to Violet’s to provide some aide and support, but what goes down is anything but that. All of the families’ dirty laundry comes tumbling out of the dryer, smacking each an every member of the family straight between the eyes. It’s pure chaos, gloriously soaked in the blackest of black comedy.
Led by Meryl Strep, August: Osage County is a performance movie. Every actor has their own individual moment to shine, and boy, do they ever. It’s hard to pick just one performance to spotlight, as everyone delivers, but it’s impossible to discuss this film without shining a spotlight on the legendary Meryl Streep. She’s insanely batshit crazy in this one, delivering intense scene after intense scene. But it’s not all that from her, she also is able to turn the switch to offer some tender heartfelt moments that are just as effective.
Julia Roberts is being pushed as a “supporting actress” for all the Awards, but don’t be fooled, this is equally as much her movie. She holds her own alongside Streep, giving a convincing performance that’s one of her best. She works well with Ewan McGregor, stuck in a marriage that they’re trying hard to save. There’s also tremendous work from the awesome Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis. Hell, the whole cast delivers. There’s plenty of surprises to be had throughout, such as a singing performance from Benedict Cubmerbatch. Is there anything that the man can’t do?
There’s a lot of twists and shocking moments that will keep the gasps coming. There are moments that will have you wiping away a tear, and then clapping and cheering the next scene. We all have our own issues with our family, and although things are slightly exaggerated and dramatic for cinematic purposes here, we can find our own connections which makes it all that much more powerful.
The drama is balanced well with the humor, thanks to strong performances, and a strong adaptation by Letts. Wells lets his actors do their thing, adding plenty of beautiful shots (often featuring a melody of Bon Iver’s “Hinnom, TX”) in between to balance it all out. This was an emotional, fun ride to take, and one that I wouldn’t hesitate to take again.