What do you get if you mix equal parts Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, a dash of Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Julianne Nicholson, and a hint of Sam Shepard, an iconic stage play and the vast skies of Oklahoma? You get a messy and delicious movie called August: Osage County.
Violet, played by Meryl Streep, is the matriarch of an aging family. She contacts her daughters when her husband seems to have disappeared, this time for good. Her daughters all arrive to the home that they grew up in and tension mounts almost instantly. Old wounds are irritated and family secrets are revealed. This is heightened by Violet’s cancer and pill addiction. Violet hurls insults to her family while simultaneously asking for their compassion to her situation.
Most critics denounce and dismiss this movie as mere “oscar bait.” I couldn’t disagree more. I find this film to be trashy, melodramatic and not necessarily worthy of any directing awards, but it is a strong story with interesting characters. Yes, Meryl Streep overacts. Yes, the plot involves a lot of reveals that seem forced at times. And yes, the ending was an odd choice that doesn’t completely work. But all of these problems do not discount the impact the film had on me, emotionally. This film packs a punch that I swallowed whole sale. I only have to point to the dinner scene in order to illustrate my point. After the funeral, the whole family sits down for a tension filled dinner. Each person brings private baggage that is exposed by Violet’s harassment. She calls out Barbara’s (Julia Roberts) failing marriage, lack of Ivy’s (Julianne Nicholson) relationship with anyone, Karen (Juliette Lewis) becoming a bimbo and Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) being a witless moron. As each jab is expertly delivered by Violet, the temperature of the room ups another inch. It all culminates in a brawl that can be seen on the poster for the film. Barbara jumps Violet and issues a pill raid. It is a mini movie within a bigger movie structure. We are able to see the talents of everyone involved (except for maybe Cumberbatch and Nicholson who mostly just look at their food the entire time), while also diving into the family’s problems and the main plot. This scene is the reason that I wanted to see the movie.
If you hate overacting, melodrama, or people yelling at each other for two hours, skip this movie. In fact run away as fast as you can from it. I can guarantee that you will not like it. This is only for people who are fans of Bette Davis or Sirk movies and if you want to feel better about your fucked up family.