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Robust August in January – A review of August: Osage County

Updated on January 14, 2014
Meryl Streep (center) is Violet Weston, the domineering matriarch of a mid western family.  Julianne Nicholson (left) and Julia Roberts play two of her three daughters.
Meryl Streep (center) is Violet Weston, the domineering matriarch of a mid western family. Julianne Nicholson (left) and Julia Roberts play two of her three daughters.

Title: August: OsageCounty

Production Company: Weinstein Company

Run Time: 121 minutes

Rated: R

Director: John Wells

Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan MacGregor, Chris Cooper, Sam Sherpard, Dermot Mulroney, Benedict Cumberbatch, Abigail Breslin

4 stars for August: Osage County

Summary: A forensic examination of the implosion of an American family whose secrets are revealed after a tragedy strikes their very heart.

Meryl Streep is one of the finest performers alive today. She can take even the most unlikeable of characters and draw sympathy from the audience with her portrayal.

Such is the case with her role as the matriarch of s strongly dysfunctional family with its roots in Osage County, Oklahoma. A tragedy will bring the family together, but their secrets will tear them apart.

Mom Violet (Streep) has mouth cancer, an irony which Dad Beverly (Sam Shepard) is quick to point out to the new domestic he hires to take care of Vi in his absence. Her acerbic tongue is quick to lash out at all who make the mistake of straying within her sphere of influence.

Daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) left the fold years earlier to get away from it all. Unfortunately, she has a few secrets of her own, not the least of which is the disintegration of her marriage to Bill (Ewan MacGregor) and the deterioration of her relationship with daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin).

Second daughter Ivy has a secret of her own that may involve a relationship with a close relative. Unfortunately, there may be deeper secrets that even Ivy may not be privy to.

And youngest daughter Karen is engaged to be married in January to a man who may not be everything he appears to be. But then again, volatile relationships are the norm for this family, not the exception.

The gathering will allow characters that don’t ordinarily interact to bond and create more tensions for this already over wound up family. And when things explode, the casualties will include not only the members of the clan, but the already thin and faltering level of trust that precariously exists between them.

What makes this film work so well is the caliber of the stars that carry the load of this movie. Roberts is no stranger to tear-jerk cinema, having starred in more than a plethora of her own hanky box flicks, most often as the strong daughterly type.

As the two younger daughters, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis both convey their love for one another and Barbara, yet it’s also obvious that the bonds that hold these three girls together are steadily being wrenched asunder.

Ivy (Nicholson) has the greatest vulnerability of the three. She’s the plainest of the girls, a fact that Violet pulls no punches in espousing to her. Plus, the fact that her life may be precariously balanced on a hidden truth will serve to uproot the house of cards that predicates the basis of her happiness.

And vapid, narcissistic Karen (Lewis) is so focused on her own shell of happiness that it becomes difficult for her to imagine that anything may underlie to destroy her storybook romance with Steve (Dermot Mulroney)

And then there’s Vi’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper). None of the women in the clan have any problem with stepping on the feelings of everyone else and the men in their lives are the true saints for putting up with it all.

Compelling characters and situations make this a film of true quality and the integrity at its heart is hard to overcome. I just wish that the playwright and screen adaptor Tracy Letts didn’t feel the overwhelming need to proliferate the script with the high volumes of profanity so prevalent in today’s cinematic drama.

Aside from the four-letter epithets and a mildly uncomfortable scene involving Jean and one of the considerably older gentlemen in the story, this is a movie that will offend as often as it can but still manages to convey a true underlying sense of heart. Hopefully viewers will sigh in relief at the movie’s conclusion knowing full well that this family is more dysfunctional than their own.

And that is the charm of the cinema when we can commiserate with families who have more misadventures and misfortunes than we have in our own lives. I recommend August: Osage County with 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.

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