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.
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Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) has cancer and a propensity for pills and alcohol. She's a difficult woman to deal with and her husband has finally had enough. Violet's family gathers including youngest daughter Ivy, middle daughter Karen (with her new fiancé), eldest daughter Barbara (with her separated husband and teenage daughter), and her sister Mattie Fae (with her husband and son in tow). A family tragedy causes tensions to run high and secrets to come out. The Weston women will be forced to examine themselves and their lives whether they want to or not. Welcome to Osage County, Oklahoma in the sweltering heat of August. Written by
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Life is very long. T.S. Elliot. Not the first person to say it, certainly not the first person to think it, but he's given credit for it because he bothered to write it down.
Now if you say it, you have to say his name after it. "Life is very long." T.S. Elliot. Absolutely goddamn right.
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Most of us probably spent time with members of our extended family over the holidays. For some, that time likely included some awkward moments. But it's a safe bet no one's family gatherings were as awful as the one depicted in the new film August: Osage County.
The movie is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by Tracy Letts (who plays Sen. Lockhart on Showtime's Homeland), and it tells the story of the Weston clan, who come together after their alcoholic patriarch (played by Sam Shepard) commits suicide. The matriarch, Violet (Meryl Streep) is an intensely mean-spirited, cancer plagued drug addict. Violet's three adult daughters all have issues of their own. This is one dysfunctional bunch.
The original stage production is regarded as a dark comedy. But if the movie version is supposed to be funny, it seems no one bothered to tell the actors. They all seem to be playing the scenes with a deadly a serious tone, and rightfully so. The movie depicts some serious issues: cancer, drug addiction, suicide, divorce, incest and corruption of a minor. There's no dark comedy here, just plain darkness. (I haven't seen the play, but its author, Mr. Letts, also wrote the screenplay. So, I'm guessing it's rather faithful.) Streep is (it almost goes without saying) phenomenal. Her performance is powerful and devastating. Julia Roberts, who plays eldest daughter Barbara, is also commanding, though her character is anything but charming. If you've always longed to see America's Sweetheart act somber and bitter for two hours, this is the movie for you. Her trademark smile is nowhere in sight. Julianne Nicholson (Boardwalk Empire) displays a poignant determination as another sister, Ivy, who strives for happiness despite some pretty insurmountable obstacles. Their performances are so good, it's almost hard to believe the movie is so unsatisfying. Never have I seen such good acting in the service of a story so unappealing.
While most of the cast is stellar, there are two notable exceptions: UK stars Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch both struggle with their American accents. While I truly admire the previous work of both men, I had to wonder, with all the out of work thespians in this country, couldn't the producers find two American actors who were talented enough to play the roles? (Are we running dangerously low on Baldwin brothers?) Cumberbatch, in particular, surely isn't hurting for employment. It seemed like he was in every other movie released in 2013.
I haven't talked much about the plot. That's because there isn't much of one. There's no goal or objective for the characters to achieve, no central question (i.e. will there be a happy ending?) that keeps us interested until it's answered in the movie's climax. Yes, Barbara takes steps to confront Violet's drug addiction. And yes, some characters have secrets that are revealed along the way. But none of these moments coalesce into anything resembling a story with a beginning, middle and an end. Essentially, this movie is just a bunch of cruel, unhappy people shouting at each other for two hours. They're trapped together in a house and the audience is trapped along with them.
There are interesting themes beneath the surface: overcoming the troubled circumstances of your upbringing and how a child's love for their parent can endure despite constant abuse. But the themes are never developed into a message or a conclusion. All of this must've worked on the stage. After all, they don't just hand out Pulitzers. But it doesn't work as a movie.
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