Review by-Jarrett Leahy
After Beverly, the Weston family patriarch, mysteriously disappears, the three Weston sisters and their maladjusted extended family return to the Oklahoma family house to try to offer support to their ornery, dysfunctional mother from whom they’ve so desperately tried to escape. Based on the 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning play written by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County is a boisterous and unrestrained family melodrama filled with a deluge of portentous roles actors clamor to get their hands on. Similar to another Broadway adaptation, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the unrelenting and ever-escalating drama of August: Osage County can be a bit overwhelming at times. The crowning jewel of the film’s volatile dysfunction is the now infamous dinner scene in which Julia Robert’s character Barbara attacks Meryl Streep’s Violet after a barrage of pharmaceutically enhanced “truth telling” pushes her over the brink. Kudos must be imparted to the actors for their commitment to the bedlam, but even with warnings of this impending altercation (the scene was even depicted on one of the movie posters), I quickly discovered I wasn’t quite prepared for the maniacal chaos that unfolded.
The canonical reverence for Meryl Streep is beyond publicized, but please allow me to add to it. Her transformation into a chain-smoking, pill-popping addict suffering from oral cancer is astonishing. The vitriol and unfiltered language that spews from her mouth directed at her family is amusingly abrasive and the top source of the film’s black humor. While watching Streep’s incomparable depiction of a drug-induced, disoriented stupor, I came to the obvious conclusion that she simply has to be an alien from another planet. Her acting talents are so above any of her contemporaries that I truly think this must be what it was like back in the 1920’s to see Babe Ruth in his prime.
The yin to Streep’s lunatic yang comes from Julia Roberts’ devastating portrayal of daughter Barbara, a woman who is so desperately trying to hide the anguish caused by a failing marriage, the disappearance of her father, and the guilt trip assault verbally unleashed by her mother for escaping and setting out on her own. Known more for her All-American good looks and radiant grin, Roberts’ austere, natural appearance here allows for a more adept depiction her character’s inner turmoil. One of the most emotionally dense performances of her career, Robert’s Oscar nomination was well deserved.
With all of August: Osage County’s jarring disharmony, surprisingly the scene that most resonated with me was a relatively placid late night confab shared between the three sisters. Stylistically reminiscent of a conversation scene in Woody Allen’s Hannah And Her Sisters with the camera circling the three, this docile exchange offers a bit of respite from the discord, allowing us a more intimate glimpse at the interaction dynamics of these three women without the overbearing presence of their mother. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t extend a quick acknowledgment of the gifted supporting performance given by rising British star Benedict Cumberbatch. Of the many A-list stars rounding out the cast, it was Cumberbatch’s vulnerable and exposed portrayal of cousin Little Charles that is most noteworthy.
Unfortunately, August: Osage County is one of those rare films that contains impressive performances that don’t add up to an impressive film. Foreboding and unremittingly melodramatic, the lasting impact of August: Osage County will be as a vessel for two imposing performances and a reminder that having great source material doesn’t always guarantee great cinema.-JL
Edited by-Michelle Zenor