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USA 2014
Directed by
John Wells
121 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars

August: Osage County

Synopsis: The Weston family is known for its strong-willed women. When a funeral brings them all together the sparks fly with recriminations, revelations and venomous verbal brawlings.

With a script adapted from his popular and Pulitzer Prize winning 2007 play by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County stays true to its theatrical roots. With its unlikeable characters played by an exemplary cast who make the biting dialogue leap off the screen in an explosion of vitriol and high-flown dramatics, one either loves or hates this kind of thing. I love it and found myself in awe of virtually all the performances and alternately chuckling and cringing at the excruciatingly uncomfortable situations. Despite much of it being played for laughs there are also moments of heart-breaking poignancy and the whole feels truthful in its exposure of the familiar hostilities seething beneath the surface of so many families and long-term relationships.

August: Osage County is an ensemble film par excellence and simply reading the cast list should be enough to pull fans straight into the cinema. Family matriarch Violet, a pill-popping, cancer-riddled, verbally abusive woman, is played by the inimitable Meryl Streep, whose gob-smacking performance has already garnered her a truckload of nominations for various awards. Seldom has such a detestable person on screen caused me to laugh so much whilst still drawing out fleeting moments of compassion. Streep is certainly not attached to looking glamorous on screen and the scenes of her wigless, chemo-therapied head are quite something. Violet’s three daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) are as unalike as any siblings could be. Roberts, in a role poles apart from her usual sweetly feminine characters, is a standout as the strung-out. sharp-tongued mother of awkward teenager, Jean (Abigail Breslin). To add to her stress she is in the process of separating from her philandering husband (Ewan McGregor). Ivy is quietly self-effacing and is romantically attached to her cousin, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is adored by his kind-hearted dad, Charlie (Chris Cooper), but inexplicably maligned by his mother, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), a seemingly down-to-earth woman.  Karen is the archetypical good-time gal with a new man each year. This time it’s Steve Huberbrecht (Dermot Mulroney), a dope-smoking sleaze-ball with an eye for younger girls. Sam Shepard plays Beverley, Violet’s briefly-seen, long-suffering husband.

Cinematically, there is not a lot to be said about what is very much a filmed stage play but as it relentlessly follows its narrative course it shrewdly reveals the depth to which familial resentment can go, .

 

 

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