August: Osage countyRemembering Mom. Oscar is going to shake his head as to where to begin.
Stars: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Dermot Mulroney, Misty Upham and Sam Shepard
Director: John Wells
Scriptwriter: Tracy Letts based on her play of the same name
Cinematographer: Adriano Goldman
Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla
The Weinstein Company
Rating: mature themes and language
Running Length: 120 minutes
What an all-star cast in this film adaptation of Tracy Lett’s play about a dysfunctional family meeting after the death of a family member. Anyone who has gone through this can find someone, or several people, who could be in their own family. Sisters quarreling and then their children quarreling, husbands patient and then erupting, use of drugs and alcohol, and all this is placed in front of the audience to observe. Patterns are set from years past and just keep rolling along. The only thing that changes is the type of alcohol or drug available in that generation. It is a good piece of writing, acting and cinematography, plus, the plains of Oklahoma have never looked so good. No tornados in sight.
We meet Meryl, diagnosed with cancer, who is married to Sam and in their marriage, he accommodates her moods and substance abuse. Daughters Julia, Julianne and Juliette stay as far from home as possible and each with their own situation. Julia has a trying marriage with Ewan and they have a daughter, Abigail. Julianne is single but interested in Benedict. Juliette goes from man to man with Dermot being the latest one. In Meryl’s family, there is her sister, Margo who is married to Chris and their son is Benedict. Misty is the housekeeper for Meryl and Sam. Now, the road map is set and the story goes with the death of a family member, and the family gathering for the funeral and bickering starts about the will. You can see the toll Meryl, as the matriarch, exacts with her precision comments designed to hurt as she must hurt inside. You just know there will be a confrontation sometime with someone. The formal facade of civility ends with “Amen” and past differences and just plain nosiness continues. With most of the scenes, there is a window or door that shows the Oklahoma prairie as though it were part of this group, flat and endless.
Meryl’s addictions begin again, and her wig goes on and off. This is one actress who goes wholeheartedly into a role. Margo, as her sister, seems to be able to calm her. Julie is bitter about the drug use and takes her anger out on Abigail and Ewan, who tolerate her (sound familiar here?) Julianne tries to keep a secret of seeing Benedict and Juliette (the bouncy one whose one goal is to have a honeymoon in the tropics) gets on everyone’s nerves. Gradually, family secrets come forth which fuel the fire for more heated discussions and the dinner table is the cause of much heartburn in more ways than one. This is like a ride into Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.
As far as acting, Oscar is going to shake his head as to where to begin. Meryl Streep pulls out all the stops as a woman whose middle name must be “hateful.” Julia Roberts, as the older daughter, takes it upon herself to cope with Mom and their scenes are not friendly, but confrontations. Meryl’s daughters, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis have learned to be shy and withdrawn (Julianne) and man-crazy (Juliette) Julia’s daughter (Abigail Breslin in an adult role) is trying her wings into adulthood and dad, Ewan McGregor (mostly with an American accent) tries to accommodate her, but needs Julia's help, too. Margo Martindale has learned that a joke is the best way out of a situation, but she, too, has an agenda. Her husband, the wonderful Chris Cooper, has a particular scene all to himself that just says it all about life in this family. Benedict Cumberbatch (BBC television’s “Sherlock Holmes” and when does this man sleep, he seems to be in every movie opening this fall/winter season) is Margo’s son, who can't seem to get anything right. A different role from Sherlock. All in all, the group blends into a whole unit to present this story.
I have not seen August: Osage County the play, so don't know how much of it is in the film’s screenplay, but I suspect most of it. A dysfunctional family that is a living thing and tries to keep itself going even though parts of it are dead, dying, sick or ready to leave. Like an organism, it is the sum of its parts and here, it is existence in rural Oklahoma.
Copyright 2014 Marie Asner
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