Movie Review - August: Osage County

Because of the presence of Julia Roberts, I got echoes of Steel Magnolias (1989). There are men in this movie, but it's the women who are dominant. It's not set in the south but instead the Midwest, the flat-lands of Oklahoma. It's more about family dysfunction than anything else.

There is a scene toward the end of this film where Meryl Streep who plays Violet Weston, the matriarch who ironically has mouth cancer, is alone in her home. It reminded me of a scene from Long Day's Journey into Night (1962) where Katherine Hepburn who played the matriarch in that movie was all alone in her home. Both women having dealt with addiction and the alienation of their families feel lost in a world of their own making.

August: Osage County is the third film to be adapted from one of Tracy Letts' plays, adapted by Letts himself. His first two were Bug (2007) and Killer Joe (2012). Both of which were directed by William Friedkin. Both felt singularly unique. August: Osage County isn't the same in that regard. It doesn't feel singularly unique. In fact, it feels rather derivative. It invokes the spirit of better movies, especially movies adapted from plays like the aforementioned 1962 film written by Eugene O'Neill. At one point, Streep references Elizabeth Taylor and at times this film invokes the spirit of Taylor's work in a couple of play-turned-films, namely Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).

Letts' play did win the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award for Best Play, and I can see why it would based on two great scenes and several, really great lines of dialogue outside those scenes, including funny one-liners and a lot of cursing. It also certainly provides a great platform for actors to shine, but, that being said, there are too many characters here and plot divergences that make the film feel too long.

Julia Roberts plays Barbara Weston, the eldest daughter of Violet who left home to live in Denver with her so-called husband Bill Fordham, played by Ewan McGregor, and her teenage daughter Jean Fordham, played by Abigail Breslin. Barbara is the daughter most resentful and bitter about coming home to see Violet when a family emergency arises.

Julianne Nicholson plays Ivy Weston, the middle daughter of Violet who stayed in Oklahoma in Violet's house. One wonders why, but there are reasons that somewhat explain. These reasons though are meant to be a surprise in the film, certainly a secret to be held.

Juliette Lewis plays Karen Weston, the youngest daughter of Violet who also left home and the state. She ended up in Florida with a fiance named Steve Huberbrecht, played by Dermot Mulroney. It's clear that he's Karen's sugar daddy. He drives a red Corvette and can afford lavish trips to the Maldives. Karen cares for him, but he seems more of an escape for her. On the surface, she's rather ditzy, a non-stop talker who's annoying in her happy-go-lucky nature.

Because it's a family drama for the most part, there's soap opera elements that are to be expected. The movie perhaps goes too far with those elements. It boils down to family members having sex with people they shouldn't, mainly because those people are other members within the family. This includes sisters sleeping with each other's spouses as well as possible incest. Having one sex scandal was enough, but by the time the third sex scandal here was dropped, my suspension of disbelief was rather shattered and I was taken too far out the movie to really come back to it.

By the time the third sex scandal was dropped, it felt to me like Letts took the first three seasons of the TV series Brothers & Sisters and compressed it for this movie. The sex scandals aren't original and have been done on daytime and prime-time soap operas for decades, so Letts could be accused of ripping off any number of them, but I found so many parallels to Brothers & Sisters that it's the one I'm citing.

Yet, I loved Brothers & Sisters and the reason why is due to the performances of the cast, particularly Calista Flockhart and Sally Field. Their performances elevated the material. I would say the same occurs here. Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts are both very strong, especially when they're fighting each other. The dinner scene leading to that fight was one of the two great ones. Because great acting allows me to forgive a lot, I wouldn't mind going back to this film, despite my issues.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language including sexual references, and for drug material.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 1 min.


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