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Film Review: 'August: Osage County'

Janet Lee |
December 21, 2013 | 1:13 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

 Osage County" opens in limited release on December 27th (The Weinstein Company).
Osage County" opens in limited release on December 27th (The Weinstein Company).
There’s nothing like going back to the madhouse you grew up in. And even better, back to the druggie mother who runs the madhouse.

Whether we like it or not, family will always stick with us. Tied by blood, they bring out the best and the worst in us. “August: Osage County” explores the latter, evoking terrifying yet honest revelations of family and the human condition.  

Originally a Pulitzer Prize winning play, the story transitions to the big screen with the help of writer Tracy Letts and director John Wells. It’s a heavy script that explores human behavior in the most intimate context—family. It’s dark and terrifying yet executed with hilarity and the help of a superb ensemble performance that makes the film a bundle of exquisite irony. 

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The film centers around the Weston family who reunite at their old Oklahoma home by some tragic news of their father (Sam Shepard). Having not seen each other for some time, their days spent together shows perhaps why they chose to keep great distance and perhaps the reason of their father’s tragedy. The film intrigues us through its many layers of adversarial and traumatic elements and characters.  

Meryl Streep is striking as Violet Weston, the pill-popping matriarch of the Weston family. Suffering from mouth cancer, she swallows pills like candy and has bouts of sheer rage that terrifies the living hell out of us. Constantly antagonizing her family, she tears down criticism for being adversarial and proclaims that she is simply truth telling. But as much as we fear her, we pity her.

There’s no reason why Violet is like that. It’s never questioned. It’s simply the way she is. Her provoking condition unwillingly lies in the hands of her three daughters, as family members gather. Barbara (Julia Roberts), the eldest, brings along her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), whom she has recently separated from, and her 14-year-old daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), a precocious teen who distances herself with some cigarettes and pot. 

There’s Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), the sweet middle-child who's the only one that lives by home. She’s smart and shy, but her love life is a rather unconventional one that only grows even more shocking by the end. 

Karen (Juliette Lewis), the youngest, is a princess who can’t stop talking about herself despite the tragic circumstances of her father. She brings along her sketchy fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney), a businessman in Florida.

And we can’t forget the relatives. Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) is just as cruel as her sister. She constantly mocks her son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) and antagonizes her good-hearted and respectful husband Charlie (an exceptional Chris Cooper). 

The range of diversity amongst these characters provides a spectacular view of the unsettling dynamics of the human condition in family. The film is a character study that covers generational conflicts and individual flaws. Each character carries a history and a story that influences the way he or she interacts with others. 

Each of the Weston women carries her own dysfunctional characteristic with self-righteousness. But the woman who is to perhaps succeed in her mother’s role as the mad matriarch is Barbara. Constantly bitter and angry, she grows more and more like her mother. It’s great to see Julia Roberts embody such a cynical and proud character. She does it admirably, carrying the gravity of the story from beginning to end. 

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The film mainly centers on the relationship between Violet and Barbara that grow increasingly violent…literally. Just wait till you see Roberts take down Streep during the pivotal dinner scene. Dinner with the Westons carries a schizophrenic ambience that sucks us in and haunts us. It’s quite a show, as personalities clash and we learn more about the characters. 

Dysfunctional family films usually twist dry humor and drama to produce heart-felt material. While it does possess a similar recipe, this film takes cynicism and truth to brew a bleak and evocative tale. It tells it like it is and we have something to learn from it.   

Just when you think the iconic Meryl Streep can’t get any better, she blows your mind. She goes on a wide range of emotional waves, embodying a physically and mentally ravaged woman. One moment she is a pitiful being and the next, a demon who shoves a paddle down our throats.  It is quite a memorable performance. 

To put it out bluntly, it’s a crazy story. But the crazy comes from a human scope that speaks purposefully. The people and situation that life brings us can make us crazy. And when we finally unravel from it, we realize that as horrendous as it may have been, it planted something cogent that will always be a part of us. 

“August: Osage County” opens in limited release on December 27th and opens wide on January 10th.

Watch the trailer below.


Reach Staff Reporter Janet Lee here. Follow her on Twitter



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