Film reviews by Daniel Davis are an internship project in partnership with Lyndon State College. Opinions expressed are those of the reviewer and not of Catamount Arts.
Set mostly in the Oklahoma home of the Westons, a completely dysfunctional family, August: Osage County is a downright, demented, hilarious mess. After the family’s father, Beverly Weston, played by Sam Shephard, dies, the family gets together at the old homestead, where they all grew up, to pay their respects. For good reason, they are concerned about Beverly’s pill-taking, drugged up widow, Violet, played by Meryl Streep. The majority of the film is about how the various members of the family interact with each other, especially the relationships between the daughters, Barbara, Karen, and Ivy (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson) and their mother, Violet (Streep).
The film is a “drama” and relies heavily on some very strong acting performances, thanks to a talented and widely varied cast. Meryl Streep, as Violet, the matriarch of the family, has a rather “over the top” southern accent, and is, as expected, quite good. With grey hair, bald spots, and a black wig, she is loud, boisterous, unpleasant, unlikeable, and unsympathetic, exactly as her character is supposed to be. Barbara, one of her daughters, is played by Julia Roberts. Barbara (Roberts) is the only other character with Violet to have any real screen time, and their interactions with each other as mother and daughter are also quite good. Julia Roberts’ performance is powerful, commanding, and strong. Her character is also unlikeable, but given what we learn she has been through, some of her actions are understandable.
Ewan McGregor plays her husband, Bill, but disappointingly, is not given a whole lot to do. His standout scene is when he argues with his wife and says “You’re a pain in the ass”. Also in the film is Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), who plays Barbara (Roberts) and Bill’s (MacGregor) daughter, Jean, who is also not given a lot to do. Chris Cooper plays Uncle Charlie, and is married to Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae, who is played by Margo Martindale. Uncle Charlie (Chris Cooper) is one of the few likeable characters in the film, but in a strange and funny way, and his wife, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) is a real standout as the superbly boisterous and nagging family member. Juliette Lewis plays Karen, one of Violet’s daughters, and brings her new fiancé, Steve, played by Dermot Mulroney, to the funeral to meet the family for the very first time. Julianne Nicholson plays Violet’s other daughter, Ivy, and appears to be the least dysfunctional person in the whole family. Her character seems out of place as she is more much reasonable than the others, and is able to point out how much of a control freak Barbara (Roberts) really is. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a mentally challenged, wimpy and awkward character, named Little Charles, and is introduced as the son of Mattie Fae and Charles. He is also known as “the black sheep of the family” and gives a very good performance, despite his ho-hum accent.
August: Osage County is, in many ways, a “dark comedy”. The film is lush with humor, and much of it comes from the interaction with the characters, specifically Violet Weston, who makes quibbles such as “Is anyone supposed to smoke?”, as well as quotes like “big bite of fear”. Though this film is meant to be a drama, the humor of the film, cannot be denied. The direction by John Wells is fairly generic except for a notable sequence where the characters get into the car with no talking while music plays instead in the background. This is Wells’ second time directing a feature film (The Company Men, 2010) and is better known as an Executive Producer of several well-known television series (eg. Southland, ER, West Wing).
Overall, August: Osage County is not a great movie, but it does have great performances in it. A lot of people might find it hard to watch, and understandably will not like the characters, but I do not regret seeing this film at all.