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August: Osage County

2014-03-14 11:43
What it’s about:

When alcoholic patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) commits suicide the family rally together to support the pill popping, cancer stricken, matriarch Violet Western (Meryl Streep). Her three daughters return home for their father’s funeral each bringing with them their own baggage. Barbara (Julia Roberts) is the eldest; she arrives with estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their 14-year old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) who she has a rocky relationship with. Middle child, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the daughter who stayed close to home taking care of her parents. She has a secret romance with her second cousin Little Charlie (Benedict Cumberbatch). The youngest Karen (Juliette Lewis) brings her fiancé, Steve (Dermot Mulroney) a somewhat shady character. Rounding off the family is Violet’s sister Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband, Charlie (Chris Cooper).

What we thought:

I have to admit that I was not sure what to expect from this film. And boy, was I in for a shock.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tracy Letts this black comedy-drama film puts you right in the centre of a melting pot of deep, dark family secrets. Set in an unusually hot August in a rural area outside Pawhuska, Oklahoma the setting lends to the underlying tensions in this family. The house itself is a volcano waiting to erupt.  Dark shades cover the windows, it looks stuffy, suffocating and unbearable just like all the secrets weighing this family down. It is only when the characters step outside in the beautiful landscape that you feel as though you can breathe.

This ensemble cast should win an award for their performance. Every actor is flawless in their delivery of their respective character. The story focuses largely on the relationship between Violet (Streep) and Barbara (Roberts) and they are brilliant, they steal the show.

Streep as the drugged out Violet is a force to be reckoned with. She is merciless and hones in on each member of her family playing on their weaknesses and when they least expect it she ruthlessly attacks.. The fact that Violet has mouth cancer is quite ironic as her words are poisonous darts. This is Streep like you’ve never seen her before.

Roberts as Barbara is a stripped down version of her usual somewhat glamorous roles. There is not one flash of the killer trademark smile. She is angry and bitter and foul mouthed and in many ways a mirror image of her mother. She makes a worthy opponent for Violet and watching them go at each other is both exhilarating and hard to watch. The tension boils over in a scene where they physically attack each other.

This is not a heart warming drama about family, it is a rather brutal, honest depiction of a family so dysfunctional that not even the death of a loved one can salvage these relationships. Being a witness to this family’s downfall will leave you feeling stunned and shell shocked. You’ll definitely want to go home afterwards and hug a family member.  

Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts serve up a dysfunctional feast.

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