Film: August: Osage County
Starring: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) and Julia Roberts (Eat Pray Love)
Director: John Wells (The Company Men)
U.S. Release: December 25th, 2013 (Limited Release - Rated R)
Runtime: 130 minutes
*** Guest Review Courtesy of Greg Rouleau (Reel True)
“Let’s call the dinosaurs ‘Native Americans’ while we’re at it” quips a bumbling, prescription drug-fueled, Violet Weston during an early scene in August: Osage County. A delicate topic that is revisited and regurgitated amongst the Weston family, along with a plethora of touchy subjects including extramarital affair, drug-smuggling, and carnivorous eating habits. Violet, played ever so dutifully by the wondrous Meryl Streep, is at the center of most of these debates. She’s without a doubt the anchor of this ensemble.
In the opening scene, Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) is interviewing a young Native American girl, Johnna, in a thankless role by Misty Upham, for a caregiver position. He informs her that his wife, recently diagnosed with cancer, has “gotten in the way of his drinking”. Violet then stumbles in, revealing a decaying, chain-smoking, pill-popping shadow of a woman, and a strong contempt for Bev. Shepard is having a solid 2013. Earlier in the year he played a pivotal role in Mud, and has another supporting role in the yet to be released, but promising Out of the Furnace. Here, his screentime is limited, as he meets his demise in the first 15 minutes. (This is no spoiler, as anyone that is familiar with the play, or has seen the trailer is clearly informed of.) But his impact is felt throughout, and his death is the catalyst for the story.
The film is based on the play of the same name, and written for the stage and screen by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Tracy Letts and directed by TV mainstay, John Wells. Wells seems to take a cue from last years Lincoln (also written by playwright Tony Kushner), where Steven Spielberg didn’t let the direction overshadow the players. This is very much an actors film, and many scenes unfold just like a play. The dialogue, sharp and snappy, rarely ever lets up throughout the nearly 130-minute running time.
While Streep has the broadest role in a film full of showy characters, Julia Roberts is equally as strong as Barbara in a much more internalized performance. Both Meryl and Julia will likely receive some awards recognition at the end of the year. Roberts turns away her husband’s (Ewan McGregor) attempts at affection and elicits much apprehension upon a return to see her estranged mother. The two have lost control of their daughter, an adolescent Abigail Breslin. But there’s something deeper churning away at Barb.
The omnipresent Benedict Cumberbatch has little to do in limited screentime other than pout his way through a few scenes. He has a nice moment, however, where he serenades Julianne Nicholson’s character, Ivy, in one of the film’s more touching scenes. On the lighter side of the things, his parents played by Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale, as the effervescent Mattie Fae, provide us with some of the most comical scenes. It’s a joy to watch these two together. Almost everyone in the ensemble has a chance to shine in at least one scene. The story builds to a nearly 15-minute dinner table scene at the climax of the film, where some twists and turns are abound.
The final moments of the film sort of limp to the finish line and the ending lacks some emotional weight. While wishing for another scene with the rest of the family, but perhaps as it should be, we’re left focusing on Streep and Roberts’ characters. George Clooney and Grant Heslov, the producing duo behind last year’s Best Picture winner Argo, teamed up with the Oscar machine himself, Harvey Weinstein, to bring Osage to the screen. It’s not the best film of the year, but it’s certainly a nice effort all around.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4