August: Osage County: crazy plot, stellar cast

august osage county

Is it just me or has there been a bit of a dry spell in the world of new movies lately? Lots of things to look forward to in April/May, but March has been very “meh.” That’s probably why I found myself at the cheap theater this weekend. There’s not really anything out right now that I want to pay full price for, but, heck, $4 for a movie on a Saturday night? I can swing that!

That’s how I found myself watching August: Osage County months after most of the rest of the world. It’s one I’ve been curious about not only because stars Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep both received Oscar nominations for their performances, but because it’s adapted from a play that snatched up a slew of Tony Awards back in 2008, including Best Play. I can certainly see how it earned so much praise. August: Osage County is a dark comedy filled with sharp dialogue and strong, realistic characters (especially the women). Sometimes the drama gets a little too bizarre to be believed, but it’s still a fascinating story made even better by several excellent performances.

Synopsis: “A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.” Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.

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The Good: Seriously—this CAST. You can never go wrong with Meryl Streep, and she certainly does shine as insane, blunt, hilarious pill-popping matriarch Violet. She’s so kooky and awesome that she could easily steal the show, if not for Julia Roberts. Roberts’ character, Barbara, is Violet’s daughter, and though the Academy would have you believe she plays second fiddle to Violet (Roberts was nominated for Best Supporting Actress), I saw Barbara as the main protagonist of the story. Or, at the very least, the true heart of the film. Though she has a touch of her mother’s craziness, Barbara is one of the strongest and most relatable characters in the bunch. She tries her best to be the glue in her very unstable family, and you admire her for it. Roberts brings this character to life in a way that is perhaps even more striking than Streep’s performance; I mean, it’s always easier to impress with crazy characters, right? Also notable: Julianne Nicholson, who gives a subtle yet strong performance as Barbara’s quiet sister, Ivy; Margo Martindale, who plays Violet’s sister, Mattie Fae, and, in my opinion, completely embodies what we all think of when we imagine a middle-aged southern woman; and Chris Cooper, who plays Mattie Fae’s husband, Charlie—one of the most normal, laid back characters in the bunch. As a whole, the film has a streak of wacky, dark humor that is pretty fun, but it also keeps you on your toes with the many dramatic secrets of the Weston family that come to light. It’s constantly enjoyable and interesting.

Favorite scene: Striving to keep Ivy from sharing a huge, devastating secret with Violet, Barbara frantically tries to get everyone to shut up and eat their dinner. So. Funny.

august osage county 2

The Bad: As I mentioned, the drama is often laid on too thick. Seriously, this family has almost every problem you could possibly think of, and I find that pretty unrealistic. That said, I guess the film can’t be blamed entirely since it’s adapted from the play. And speaking of that, apparently the play is normally three-and-a-half hours, yet this movie is squished down into two. I feel like this hurts the development of certain characters. Barbara’s daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin), for instance, is someone we hardly know at all. We simply know that she’s a vegan, kind of a bratty hipster, and not necessarily the smartest kid. Sadly, I could say the same about the development of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, Little Charles. All we know about Little Charles is that he’s a clumsy, unreliable screw-up in an unsavory relationship. I would be surprised if his screen-time were any higher than 10 minutes, which is a shame because it’s quite a waste of Cumberbatch’s talent (and, as you know, I’m obsessed with him). Even Ewan McGregor, who plays Barbara’s husband, Bill, doesn’t get much of a chance to shine. There were also a couple characters who seemed fairly pointless to me. Violet’s third daughter, Karen (Juliette Lewis), is a dimwitted, flaky woman who is completely reliant on the affections of whatever man she attaches herself to—in this case, her sleazy fiancé, Steve (Dermot Mulroney). These two felt more like caricatures than actual characters, which, perhaps, is the point, but I just didn’t feel like they added anything to the film. In my opinion, they’re among the weakest performances.

Least favorite scene: I couldn’t exactly come up with a scene that I would say was my least favorite, so I’ll just go with an awkward one: Little Charles sits down at the piano and sings an adorable song that would melt your heart if he weren’t singing it to the person he’s singing it to. I wanted to love it, but part of me could not quit screaming, “STAHP!”

To Sum It Up: Though the drama is so excessive that it’s borderline ridiculous, August: Osage County is saved by several strong performances, an interesting overall story, and lots of humor. For Streep and Roberts alone, I’m pretty sure it’s worth a trip to the cheap theater. Or you could just rent it when it comes out next month. Your call.

My Grade: B+

P.S. Got a little something today! More about that soon, but for now here’s a taste.

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48 thoughts on “August: Osage County: crazy plot, stellar cast

  1. Great review Cara, you’ve made a few points that make me more likely to see this now. I wasn’t so much turned on by everyone acting like a buncha crazies around a dinner table, just doesn’t seem my thing. But if its actually funny in these parts rather than just being overly dramatic ALLLL the time, there’s a chance I’ll not only watch it, but like it too. Meryl Streep is phenomenal, I just feel like she’ll be SO good in this unlikable role that I’ll leave permanently disliking the actress! haha.

    Oh, and nice trophy!!! 😀 Congrats again

    • Thanks, Tom! If you’re curious about it, I would definitely give it a shot. There’s enough humor to keep it from becoming too heavy, I think. And yes–Meryl KILLS IT. 🙂

  2. I’m fairly certain I’m more of a Cumberbitch than you, Cara ;). Great cast and performances, execution was off, but solid flick nonetheless. Cumberbatch and Chris Cooper are my favourites here, but you can’t go wrong with any one person in that ensemble. The scene where Cumby plays the piano makes me happy :).

    • Joseph, all of these assertions that you’re more of a Cumberbitch than me are starting to worry me…I love me some Bennybatch, but…are you stalking him? Like, I’m wondering if I should call somebody. Do you have a shrine to him in your basement? Do you have him TIED UP in your basement? You’re worrying me, bro. As for the piano scene, it’s cute but…uncomfortable. Lol.

  3. The ensemble is good, it’s just that some feel as if they are acting a lot more than they should. Almost as if they’re “over-acting”, for lack of a better term. Good review.

    • Thanks, Dan! And I could see that. I think that tends to happen when movies are adapted from plays–that is, I think movies tend to be much more subtle than plays, so the transition can sometimes make the performances seem slightly over-the-top. That I said, I still enjoyed this one quite a bit.

  4. Great review Cara! I didn’t enjoy it as much as you did, but there certainly are a few excellent performances here. The main problem I had when watching was not finding any of the characters – other than Julianne Nicholson as Ivy – particularly likeable. And agreed on the Cumberbatch thing, what a waste.

    Adam.

    • Thanks, Adam! And I’m with you–it was hard to get attached to anybody. Even though they aren’t the most likeable characters, I did still find myself attached to Violet and Barbara–Violet just because she’s so wonderfully crazy (and because she’s freaking Meryl Streep) and Barbara because she seems like the strongest and most reliable character in the bunch. But yeah…not the nicest ladies. Hahaha.

  5. Nice review. I just couldn’t go with this thing. By the end of the movie I wanted to strangle all of them and frankly I was sick of being around them. Many of the issues you mentioned as negative were spot on for me. I also thought there was a lot of scene chewing going on (especially from Streep). But I think most people have responded positively to it so I’m kinda on my deserted island again! 🙂

    • Haha! Nooo I’m positive you aren’t the only one on that island, Keith. I’ve heard plenty of people say they didn’t love it. I’m a little obsessed with Streep, so I tend to turn a blind eye to her faults…but yeah, maybe she over-acted a little. Lol. I mentioned this earlier, but I’m wondering if part of the over-acting had something to do with the fact that it’s adapted from a play. If they stayed fairly faithful to the performances in the play, I think that could easily seem like a bit much in film form. But I’ve never actually seen the play, so that’s just a theory.

  6. Very nice trophy! Congrats again!

    And mostly agreed on this flick. I think Roberts, Streep and Martindale a bit over the top, which isn’t in itself bad, but when combined with the movie’s bad direction . . . well . . . it beomes Acting instead of playing a character. Therein is where we agree: this one lays the drama on too thickly. I mostly blame the director. He would have been better served treating this like the play it is meant to be. Longer takes, fewer close ups, more time in establishing shots, etc.

    • Thanks, Josh! I’m not so great at identifying the technical problems with films, but yeah–I’m sure that was a big part of the problem, too. I enjoyed it, but it just wasn’t quite what it could’ve been. I’d be interested in seeing the play to see how they compare.

  7. Not a bad score at all. Quite awesome actually. I have considered watching this so many times but it just does not seem like my type of film. I like drama….It is just the fact that it is a crazy family complaining about everything. I mean…I hate when my family has drama, why would I want to watch another? Maybe I am over-thinking it and should just give it a watch!

    • You might give it a try…I dunno. I get the feeling that maybe you wouldn’t like it as well as I did. It is a VERY crazy family, and they do have a boatload of drama…But if you do end up checking it out, I’d be very curious to see what you think!

  8. Mehhhhh. I’ve avoided this one as I can only take so much dysfunctional family bullshit. Maybe I’ll watch it if it shows up on Netflix 20 years from now. Great review! And, um, trophy. #notjealous 😉

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