Film Review: August: Osage County (MA15+) (USA, 2013)

August Osange County

It’s almost become cliché to say it now, but Meryl Streep dominates yet another film. August: Osage County is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name, with original playwright Tracy Letts penning the screenplay for The Company Men director John Wells to helm. A darkly comic drama, the film begins with Violet Weston (Streep) suffering from mouth cancer and a half-concealed addiction to a pharmacy of pills. Her poet husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) goes missing and the family gather from near and far to her home in Oklahoma’s Osange County to look after her until he returns.

Several themes recur throughout the film, most pointedly that everybody is hiding something and everybody has a bone to pick. Eldest daughter Barbara, played wonderfully by Julia Roberts, exhibiting talents unseen by her in many years, is a favourite target of the cantankerous Violet, though sisters Karen (Juliette Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) are likewise in no position to expound the virtues of maternal love.

As the film moves on, and more siblings, aunts, and uncles arrive to ebb and flow between sympathy and indignation, we learn a vague, passed down word of mouth history of this family of Westons. This is an area where the script particularly shines- little snippets of a story here and tender anecdotes there not only reveal these characters to have real depth, but help provide justifications for every stolen glare, sarcastic comment and rare moment of tenderness. The honesty in which the film depicts a damaged family, still holding together out of a long placed sense of commitment or hangover from the love of yore, is carried out with such elegance and effortlessness that a best adapted screenplay Oscar nomination (at the very least) is all but secured. The story only becomes all the more fascinating and intriguing with the late arrival of family disappointment ‘Little Charles’, played with typical brilliance and a surprising southern drawl by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Oscar nominations are all but assured for a number of the cast and crew here. Streep, Roberts and Cumberbatch all nail their roles, large and small, with casual brilliance and J Roy Helland continues to dominate Hollywood’s hair and makeup ranks through his pasty ageing and damaging of Meryl Streep. The cinematography and direction are both neat and unobtrusive, with neither getting in the way nor showing off in front of the story. Which brings us to minor grievances…

The film rarely, if at all, reaches beyond its grasp. For all the drama and for all the familial woe; this film is concerned only with its own characters, its own world. Considering the amount of talent dripping from every actor on screen, it perhaps would have been nice to see the script up the ante and look outwards slightly, or give the audience something tangible with which to look themselves. Secondly, the limits of credibility are stretched slightly as the household secret revelations go on and on, but these are truly minor gripes in what is overall an impeccable drama.

What could have been a difficult sell, considering how little technically ‘happens’ in the movie, August: Osage County is easy to recommend to nearly anyone looking for a taught and intelligently written drama. There isn’t a huge amount of meat on the bones, but it’s a great meal while it lasts.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

August: Osage County opens nationally on January 1st, 2014

Running Time: 2 Hours and 1 Minute