Movie Review: “August: Osage County” – There’s Something About Meryl

Written by Rebecca Mirabelli February 11, 2014

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When it comes to movies, there are really only a few actors that really ‘do it’ for me; their ability to transcend typecasting and comfort zones making them Oscar material. \Paul Giamatti and Geoffrey Rush are two of them, Meryl Streep is another. In “August: Osage County” (from here-on-out “August”), Streep is more devil as Violet Weston than she was as Miranda “Beastly” Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada.”

As the member of a rather large and loud Italian family, I know the chaos that can ensue from family get-togethers. However, “August” reveals that blood doesn’t make family, and Streep’s matriarchal character really puts the “nasty” in the Weston “dynasty”. With an all-star cast, some of the darkest woebegone comedy I’ve ever seen, and a mouth on Julia Roberts I definitely wasn’t expecting, “August: Osage County” has strangely and dysfunctionally found its place in my heart.

Home, Cantankerous Home

First off, I’d like to point out that the primary film poster is of Violet (Streep) being tackled to the ground by her eldest daughter, Barbara (Roberts), and the rest of the family watching in horror. Yes, this scene does actually occur in “August,” and I still don’t understand how such pandemonium was so flawlessly scripted and acted. It’s not even the climax of “August,” it’s just one of the many family spats occurring, further moving the plot and developing character. The depiction of the family home in “August” is sheer melodrama. Spousal separation, a funeral, promiscuity with a minor, substance abuse, infidelity, and incest only take up some of the plot. Roberts plays such an untoward character I was almost taken aback, especially with how colourful her language becomes as “August” draws to a close.

Director John Wells is the master of controlled chaos as scenes of physical anarchy, verbal abuse, and completely irrational comedy are brilliantly played out, often with Streep dancing about the room with Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally” in the background with a cigarette in hand. With a very generalized synopsis, and a plot with nothing more than separate chains of events followed by extraneous reaction, the “meat and potatoes” of “August” is the acting.

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Home, Cathartic Home

Despite the drama being over-the-top and very “Hollywood” for Oklahoma, there is a lot of realism, as well as the ability for the viewer to relate to the family dynamic. The first time we see Violet’s granddaughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), she is wandering the house yelling “Mom!” because the phone is ringing, rather than answer it herself. We see siblings with such different lives and levels of authority in those lives. Yet, when back in the childhood home they all return to their former childlike states because that is how their mother treats them. We see the yearning for that familial bond that never happened and can never happen because of differing personalities, perspectives, etc. We see the disappointment and heartbreak in acknowledging our parents’ shortcomings.

Through all the melodrama, swearing, pill-popping, and awkwardness, we see real family dilemmas that “August” in no way attempts to solve. And I think that’s what I love most about “August: Osage County,” it introduces all these family conflicts with no effort to resolve them; the ending is so vastly left open that it doesn’t force a conclusion on the viewer. We have no choice over what happens to the Weston’s in the same way we have no choice over who we call family.

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I’m not one who typically loves family dramas. I’m also not one for films that intentionally make the viewer uncomfortable, although I do understand why it’s important to confront the things we never dare to speak about. “August: Osage County” was a gem from the moment it sparked to life with Sam Shepard quoting T.S. Eliot. “August” makes us think about family, what it means to be family, what it means to be connected by blood, and about whether blood really is the thickest of all things. Streep broke my heart; drug-induced psychosis was never played so well. Violet Weston is the unloving matriarchal figure who demonstrates that bad parenting is genealogical, no matter how far away from Oklahoma you run. As very much a family-oriented individual I am, I found this film more cathartic than cantankerous, and was able to find the silver lining among all the dark humour. By the end of the film, I just really wanted to hug my mom.

My Rating: 8.5/10

 

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