August: Osage County (2013)

August Osage CountyReleased: January 10, 2014 (wide release). Directed by: John Wells. Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor. Runtime: 121 min.

When a film starts out with the line “Life is very long,” that’s the first hint that the drama you’re about to watch isn’t going to be the feel-good film of the year. “August: Osage County” is a bleak feature with a prominent theme of the hollow emptiness of modern mid-western life. And hollow it is! The film follows the strong-willed women of the Weston family, who return to their family home in Oklahoma because of a family crisis. This means they have to face the devil woman that raised them.

The synopsis states that there’s a family crisis, and usually, one knows that it’s likely that it’ll either be a funeral or a life-threatening disease; and since Violet (Meryl Streep) already has mouth cancer, it looks like people are going to be dressing in black and are going to pretty upset throughout. The film’s trailer isn’t so subtle about who dies, either. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, I’ll try not to spoil it. This is a film about how family tests you and how it lifts you up but can kick you down, as well. And if you have a mother like Meryl Streep’s character, it’s going to kick you down a lot.

I like films with a focus on characters, and most of these are pretty good – but since there are so many, there’s a limited amount of layers for all of them. But the performances are pretty spectacular, and one of my favourite aspects of the film. Meryl Streep is great as a devil woman named Violet with emotional issues because of all the pills she takes. She’s one of those people who criticizes everything and blames people for things that happen, and make your insecurities known which makes one feel crappy. Because she’s so domineering, and since Streep is such a powerhouse dramatic actress, I think that’s why some people consider her a Leading Actress here, even though I’m nearly convinced she has about the same screen time as Roberts. I’m thankful she’s absent for about 25 minutes of the film because the character’s personality is very irritating. Since her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) is a similar personality, one can tell their mother screwed them up pretty harshly. 

Though, while Violet is critical of everyone, Fae is mostly critical of her son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Violet has three daughters, the main one Barbara is portrayed by Julia Roberts. She’s just great as a character who’s more likeable than her mother, but a bit similar – showing the influence of parental figures. Barbara is trying hard to keep the relationship with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) intact. Violet’s other daughter is Karen (Juliette Lewis) who is a bit of a ditz, but not much smarter than her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s most likeable daughter is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who was the only daughter to stay close to home, which creates tension between the three daughters. Ivy is criticized greatly by her mother because she hasn’t found a man yet. The only characters who actually rarely have rude things to say to each other are Ivy, Little Charles and Mattie Fae’s husband Charles (Chris Cooper).

Everybody’s just fighting constantly and it doesn’t make the experience enjoyable. There are bursts of comedy here and there that keeps the film from being completely boring, so that’s a good aspect. It seems to me that when one thinks family drama, it’s reasonable to expect people smiling and being nice to each other, isn’t it? But that so rarely happens in this slowly-moving picture. The only scenes some might find theirselves enjoying the film is when Julia Roberts launches herself at Meryl Streep because it’s freaking awesome, and there’s a sweet song that Cumberbatch sings at one point. Along with the little bursts of comedy, that’s the only time I really liked this. Its ending is unrewarding and the film is generally depressing. It’s one of those films where you walk out of the theatre and say, “Hey, could you say something kind to me? I’ve hardly heard a nice thing for two hours.” To have that depressed feeling for these two hours is an emotionally exhausting experience.

Score50/100

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10 Responses to August: Osage County (2013)

  1. jjames36 says:

    This is emotional exhausting. No doubting that. I think it mostly effective at what it aims to be, but there is no question many audience goers (yourself included, it seems) are going to dislike this film.

  2. Abbi says:

    I loved this film but then I will always seek out emotional upheaval and destruction over happy endings.

  3. The Vern says:

    Families that argue and fight. This sounds like my kind of movie. Then again I always like movies where people argue. Plus this was written by Tracy Letts who also wrote Bug and Killer Joe. He always writes dark depressing material

    • Daniel Prinn says:

      Hahah, I like it when people argue in movies, but not every scene hahah! I don’t know if I’ve even heard of Bug, but I must watch Killer Joe soon. Thanks for the comment, Vern! :)

  4. CMrok93 says:

    Nice review Dan. I didn’t mind that there was so much acting going on here, I just minded that none of it really added up to much other than a bunch of people trying their hardest to be better than the other person in the room. In that case, it felt more like an actor’s workshop, and less of an actual story, with actual characters we can connect with.

    • Daniel Prinn says:

      That’s an interesting assessment, there, Dan. I don’t necessarily agree with it because I just thought the actors were doing their best at what they do, not trying to top anyone else’s performance – they’re just acting. And the fact that it has a crappy story isn’t the fault of the actors, it’s all on Letts for that one.

  5. This is a very powerful film. The performances are impressive but the script feels very intense at times and it would have been nice to have some quieter moments in which to reflect on the film’s themes.

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