Review: ‘August: Osage County’ unsettling, engaging

Meryl Streep steals the spotlight in “August: Osage County,” a film featuring the mechanics of family chaos in rural Oklahoma.

The movie, directed by John Wells, is an adaptation of Tracy Letts’s 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama.

Streep plays a dominant role as Violet Weston, the crude matriarch of the family.

“Violet, who is suffering from mouth cancer and addicted to pain pills, is a woman given to such toxic utterances and such a corrosive style of mothering that it’s a wonder more of her relatives haven’t developed cancers of their own, simply from long-term exposure,” Michael O’Sullivan, reporter for The Washington Post, said.

Violet’s husband commits suicide early in the film, which results in an unexpected reunion for her extended family in the sweltering August heat.

The film features the disturbing relationships between all Weston family members, but highlights Violet’s volatile relationship with her tactless sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), and three daughters — who have made a point to escape the minimalist lifestyle in Osage County with the exception of the middle daughter, Ivy.

MCT Photo Roberts and Streep star in “August: Osage County”  which was released in January of this year.

MCT Photo
Roberts and Streep star in “August: Osage County” which was released in January of this year.

The supporting cast includes Julia Roberts as Barbara Weston, Violet’s most resentful daughter. Barbara drags her rebellious teenage daughter (Abigail Breslin) and adulterous husband (Ewan McGregor) along to ease the reunion, which takes a bitter turn for said three.

Barbara struggles with internal guilt throughout the film, but manages a strong façade in her mother’s presence.

“For my money, though, the best and most nuanced performances are those delivered by Julianne Nicholson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Cooper, as the tale’s most tragic victims. Nicholson breathes life into mousy daughter Ivy, the one Weston girl who — unlike Barbara and the baby of the family, Karen (Juliette Lewis) — never escaped the homestead for saner pastures. She’s left caring for Violet, and trying to carve out a small corner of life for her own happiness and healing,” O’Sullivan said.

The climax takes a catastrophic turn late in the film to evoke pity and humiliation for Ivy, her cousin, Little Charles (Cumberbatch), and his father, Charlie (Cooper).

“August: Osage County” successfully incorporates humor, despair, shock and sympathy through to the credits. The film includes heaps of drama, unclear from the trailer, and portrays a darker message than expected.

It seems O’Sullivan thought similarly.

“It’s a message reflected in the several generations of women at the heart of the story, from Violet’s unseen mother to Barbara’s still salvageable adolescent daughter: Monsters aren’t born, but made,” he said.

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