If there is one benefit of going to see a movie during the winter, it is that the audiences get a break from the onslaught of 3D blockbuster sequels and have the chance to see films that do not feature as many visual gimmicks and put the focus on the drama.
August: Osage County, adapted from Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer winning play of the same name, may be the extreme at the other end of the spectrum for some. Despite excellent performances from an ensemble cast, led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, the film’s theatricality and all-too obvious timing for the Oscar season can overburden the unprepared; although for the most part, the film works well.
The film’s plot follows the reunification of the Weston family in Osage County during an unusually hot August. The family reunites in the house of parents Beverly and Violet Weston (Sam Shepard and Meryl Streep). Both Beverly and Violet struggle with addiction; Beverly is an alcoholic and Violet has a problem with pills in addition to having mouth cancer. When Beverly disappears, Violet calls her sister (Margo Martindale) and her daughters Barbara and Karen (Julia Roberts and Juliette Lewis) to come back where she and her third daughter, Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) live.
There are clear signs from the beginning that this is the kind of film where you expect characters will talk about their feelings a lot and get into confrontations that break family tension in dramatic climaxes. Still, despite having no revolutionary plot and a rather standard twist at the end, the fantastic performances by Streep and Roberts, as well as a strong supporting cast, means an engaging and thought-provoking film that challenges, humours and sometimes upsets.
The family’s fall from grace is almost painful to watch and each character is as broken as Violet and Beverly. Barbara is separated from her husband and struggles with her 14 year-old daughter, Ivy has settled into a troublesome relationship, and Karen shows up with her latest fiancée, a sleazy businessman who is 10 years older.
Ultimately, the performances are enough to carry the film through. The over-the-top quality of the acting is expected in a story originally meant for the stage, but that does not mean the film is a stage performance simply captured on the big screen; the film is a stimulating experience in its own right.
In the end, it comes down to you to realise that this exhausting Faulkner-like family drama may not be for everyone, but if you are up for it, it can be very rewarding. August: Osage County offers something very different than recent options in our theatres, and that on its own makes it stand out.