Screened Out – August: Osage County

By : Stephen Miller
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Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch

If the holidays left you feeling a little disparaging about your family, you might want to spend some time with the Westons of Osage County.

Make no mistake; August: Osage County is not a warm, fuzzy film that will fill you with filial love. What it is is a darkly comic drama, a tour-de-force of great acting by many great actors, based on the sick and twisted Tony-Award-winning play by Tracy Letts. The tagline on the poster is “Misery Loves Family.” That should be a warning; it should be in a font as bright and hot as the soul-frying Oklahoma sun.

The Weston family has lost their patriarch (Shepard)  meaning they don’t know where he is. The mystery brings the three adult Weston daughters (Roberts, Lewis, and Nicholson) and their families back home. Waiting for them is one of the great harridans of America drama ” Violet Weston (Streep) ” a mean old mom riddled with cancer and hopped up on prescription drugs.

Right from the beginning, we know this summer in the Sooner State is not going to be pretty or heartwarming. Instead, it’s amazingly well acted. It’s also grim, uncomfortably funny, and definitely bleak.

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Margo Martindale are three of the crazy Weston women.

Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep, and Margo Martindale are three of the crazy Weston women.

Streep, Roberts, and all of the other great performers were drawn to this project for obvious reasons. Produced by George Clooney and Grant Heslov (The Descendants, Argo), August: Osage County walks that dangerous line between gut-wrenching kitchen sink drama and dysfunctional black comedy.

Something about this area of the country makes for cruel but strong personalities, the kind of souls who inspired great Western novels by Zane Grey, Charles Portis, and Louis L. Amour. What the Westons (get the symbolism in the name?) have on top of this hardness is a pathological dysfunction, a mental sickness that manifests itself in a myriad of funny, horrible ways. You can admire the Weston women, but I’m not sure one could ever like them, much less love them.

To say that the performers are amazing is a gross understatement. The casting is perfect. In fact, there isn’t a single misstep in this film. Of course, Streep lays waste to her every scene. Here, though, everyone else matches Streep, and certain actors particularly Margo Martindale as sister Mattie Faye seem an absolute revelation.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

So much could have gone wrong; the large cast of A-listers could have toppled Letts’ original idea. It could’ve never escaped the staginess of the original play. Hollywood test audiences could’ve demanded more jokes and a lighter perspective.

So, yes, August: Osage County is a tough sell, with its mix of meanness, comedy, happenstance, and tragedy. Perhaps, many people will want to avoid such a viciously hilarious, sick and painful portrayal of an American family, especially after the holidays. Or maybe, we could all use the perspective that things could always be worse. Much, much, much worse.

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