Film Review – August :Osage County By Niall Curran
Another year, another Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep in her first dramatic role since her oscar-winning role in The Iron Lady in 2011. Once again she proves herself to be the best actress of her generation and possibly any generation with a powerful performance as Violet Weston, the ageing drug addled matriarch, who summons her daughters home to Osage County when her husband Beverley (Sam Sheperd) goes missing.
Stricken with cancer of the mouth, she complains it burns which may be due in equal measure to her acid tongue that spares nobody her invective. Existing on cocktail of prescribed drugs strong enough to kill a horse, Streep captures Violet’s strength as matriarch of the family but also the swings from vindictiveness to vulnerability as her mind drifts from states of lucidity to confusion.
Osage County, in Oaklahoma, is the second largest county in the United States to be located entirely within an Native American reservation. The setting of the film gives context to its central theme of relationships. In an early scene, returning daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) questions the relationships between the white man and Native Americans whilst travelling across the parched plains on a baking hot day in August, when she asks her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), “Did we fuck the Indians for this?”.
Directed by John Wells (Company Men), the film is adapted from the Tony award winning play of the same name by Tracy Letts and is set in the Weston’s Southern style white mansions. It analyses the difficulties of relationships through the prism of a family reunion which explores an exhaustive list of troubles that can effect relationships including death, incest, adultery, family responsibilities, intergenerational conflict, dementia, divorce, child abuse, alcohol and drug addiction.
Despite this seemingly overbearing content, the script by Letts contains wonderful pithy dialogue and introduces elements of comedy which evokes the genuine warmth of a family that keeps the tone light enough to save the audience from being drowned in the depths of philosophical angst.
Credit must be given to the ensemble cast for this tight-rope walk. Julia Roberts, who is also Oscar nominated, puts in a strong performance as the feisty daughter Barbara who is struggling with her own marriage to Bill (Ewan McGregor) and how to parent her daughter (Abigail Breslin). Julianne Nicholson also impresses as Ivy, the daughter who shouldered the burden of staying close to home and Chris Cooper brings warmth to his scenes as the avuncular Uncle Charlie. Juliette Lewis is convincing yet familiar in the role of child-like and desperate third daughter Karen who returns home with her playboy new fiancé (Dermot Mulroney). Benedict Cumberbatch has a minor role as Little Charlie where he plays against type as a man who is constantly criticised by his mother and Violet’s sister Matty Fe (Margot Martindale).
Overall, this is an entertaining drama indebted to Tennesse Williams which has an excellent and often darkly comic performance from Meryl Streep at its heart and is the perfect attraction for those who enjoy the dramatics of theatre.