“August: Osage County” is a bittersweet Southern melodrama

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“August: Osage County,” the adaptation of playwright Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer and Tony-winning play, unfolds like a generic soap opera featuring an all-star cast instead of a compelling and original movie. Instead of evil twins, evil plots and people coming back from the dead, we get family secrets, tragic pasts and forbidden love affairs. 

To get away form it all, especially from the embodiment of bitterness that is his drug-addled wife Violet (Meryl Streep), Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) decides to run away. After a few days, the Weston family convenes in Osage County, Oklahoma to support Violet, but all they get back in return is Violet tossing venomous remarks at each family member during the most awkward family dinner to grace the screen in recent years. However, the rest of the Weston family members aren’t quite perfect.

Barbara (Julia Roberts), Violet’s eldest daughter, is obliged to console her mother with her estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and stoner daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) in tow. Karen (Juliette Lewis) is the middle daughter and she is about to be married to a rich jerk (Dermot Mulroney) who seems only interested in showing off his car more than showing his affections for Karen. Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the youngest daughter, but she finds herself falling in love with her cousin Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch).

As you can see for yourself, there is a lot going in this movie in terms of different subplots. Giving credit where credit is due, director John Wells (“The Company Men”) does a competent job in making a comprehensible movie that could have easily been a hodgepodge of messy subplots in the wrong hands. However, Wells lacks the directorial style and vision that director William Friedkin used for Letts’ previous play-to-film adaptations, “Bug” and “Killer Joe.” Letts’ screenplay, which he adapted himself, features great dialogue-driven scenes. However, it feels a little restrained as it feels like this plays out more like a filmed version of the play instead of a different and interesting cinematic version of the play.

As tremendous as the ensemble of “August: Osage County” is, not all of the actors hit out of the park with their roles. Breslin, Cumberbatch, Lewis, McGregor and Mulroney are relatively weak in their roles and they do not truly stand out from the rest of the cast. Margo Martindale is great as Little Charles’ judgmental mother, but Chris Cooper brings the goods as her husband especially in a scene where he gets the opportunity to stand up to his nagging wife and defend his son. As good as those performances are, Streep and Roberts cast a big shadow as they deliver memorable performances. Streep is hateful and volatile as Violet, but there are moments in the movie where Streep’s performance is hindered by her over-the-top behavior. Roberts, on the other hand, delivers her most powerful performances in recent years as a bitter woman who slowly realizes she is turning into her mother.

Despite a stellar cast that features strong performances, “August: Osage County” plays out more like a Southern Fried Soap Opera instead of an emotionally compelling melodrama with a script that is as dysfunctional as the Weston family.

“August: Osage County”: 2 out of 4 stars

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company

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