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.
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.
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.