Director: John Wells, Main Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Ewan McGregor, Sam Shepard, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch;
Tracy Letts adapted his Pulitzer winning play for the screen and it is a very interesting study of characters and family dynamics. With John Wells at the helm, an old and honest hand at the craft, we get, alternatively, dark, stuffy interiors and burning summer light on the plains of Oklahoma, nice juxtaposition that underlines the inner turmoils and difficult relationships of the Weston family. The family members reunites under rather gloomy circumstances: the disappearance and then death of the patriarch, Beverly (Shepard). It appears clear to his eldest daughter Barbara (Roberts) that he committed suicide, having made arrangements such as hiring a help for his cancer-suffering, pill-popping wife, Violet (Streep), two days before vanishing. The audience slowly learns about the past of each character and how they became what they are, in particular we get an deep insight into Violet: the harsh childhood and difficulties of her early life, and her sister Mattie (Martindale), turned them both into strong-willed, unforgiving women and relentless mothers and wives. It is a rather dismal portrait of what people can do to the psychological health of their children. Barbara is the eldest and clearly the favorite but, being an opinionated, strong woman herself, keeps locking horns with her mother, unfortunately, in turns, she is alienating her soon-to-be ex-husband Bill (McGregor) and teenager daughter (Abigail Breslin). Ivy (Nicholson) is the mild-mannered, submissive daughter, who does everything to help her mother (she is the only one who lives nearby) and avoid confrontations (which seems a self-defense technique). Karen (Lewis) is the free-spirit but insecure one, always undervalued and dismissed by Violet, who either runs away from her problems or desperately tries to fix them finding the “right” man. Among this gallery of “terrible” women the men seems both helpless (and hapless) and the only ones who can achieve some redeeming qualities. While longtime alcoholic and poet Beverly finds that the only way through is to walk out of this raw deal, his brother-in-law Charlie (Cooper) attempts to be level-headed, patient and kind, proving to be the most balanced person of the whole family. Little Charlie (Cumberbatch) is the most pitiful of the lot: disliked and verbally abused by his mother Mattie, with zero self-worth and self-esteem, still shows a gentle nature and a kind soul. As always, family reunion will bring up old stories and things that rub the wrong way, including long-kept secrets. It is very far from the Brady bunch and not a edifying picture of familiar relations but, nonetheless, an amazing study of human nature with all its ordinary flaws. The cast as an ensemble is spectacular and makes the film, the lion share is, of course, taken in equal parts by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, both stretching their acting chops very effectively. Special kudos to Cooper and Cumberbatch for their portrayal of decent men. Intriguing —7.5/10
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2 responses to “August: Osage County”
I saw this a couple of weeks back, and liked it (albeit the “family secrets that get exposed at a reunion” plot device is starting to tire me out: is our family the only one with no incest, domestic violence, or murder hidden away? Or have I simply not found it yet?). Intriguingly, last night I watched Into the Woods, the Sondheim musical, which focuses on the parent-children relationships, and disfunctions thereof, with the main message being “Children will listen”: not directly related to one another, but surprisingly coherent and consistent!
I agree with you about the “long-kept secret” plot device being over-used and maybe our family is the exception to the rule… we are not dysfunctional enough 😉 I’m not familiar (aha, pun intended!) with the Sondheim musical but I can tell you the the movie will come out in December.