August: Osage County
Film Review by Kam Williams
Streep Heads Stellar Cast in Melodramatic Adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-Winning Play
In 2008, August: Osage County not only won a Pulitzer Prize, but it also took home a quintet of Tony Awards, including Best Play. However, the screen version of Tracy Letts’ haunting tale about a dysfunctional Oklahoma family is unlikely to be as well-received, given the tawdry tale’s relentlessly-morose plot. Who goes to the movies to get depressed?
That being said, the picture nevertheless does boast a very impressive, stellar cast headed by Meryl Streep, even if in service of a kitchen sink soap opera. She turns in another Oscar-quality performance as Violet, the substance-abusing, cancer-stricken matriarch of the Weston clan.
The film revolves around the return home of that downer of a character’s three daughters in the wake their suicidal father’s (Sam Shepard) sudden disappearance. As the action unfolds, we find each of her offspring involved in a relationship more bizarre than the next.
Eldest Barbara (Julia Roberts) arrives from Colorado escorted by her estranged husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor), even though the philandering college professor is dating one of his students. Along for the ride is their 14 year-old daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), a sullen stoner ostensibly upset about the state of her parents’ disintegrating marriage.
Youngest sister Karen (Juliette Lewis) shows up with her creepy fiancé, Steve (Dermot Mulroney), a successful businessman whose money has her deep in denial (until he hits on her niece) about his being a pedophile. Meanwhile, middle child Ivy’s (Julianne Nicholson) issue is the incestuous affair she’s carrying on with her first cousin, Charlie, Jr. (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Then there’s Violet’s sister/Charlie’s mom, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), a shrew who openly abuses both her son and hubby, Charlie, Sr. (Chris Cooper). She’s has a humdinger of a skeleton hidden in her closet just waiting to trump everybody else’s shocking developments.
A movie featuring so many sensational storylines certainly lends itself to melodrama, which is what August: Osage County proceeds to serve up in spades. Thus, the film frequently feels more like an adaptation of a dime-store romance novel than of an award-winning Broadway production.
An overplotted, feel-bad flick saved by a host of compelling performances, most notably those of Meryl Streep and Margo Martindale.
Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexual references and drug use
Running time: 121 minutes
Distributor: The Weinstein Company
To see a trailer for August: Osage County, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KafreVcaTI