AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
FOUR STARS Three women return home when their father goes missing, again. Perhaps their hot-headed, sharp-tongued mother has something to do with it.
DRAMA USA English #OSAGECOUNTY
Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts
Australian audiences were enthralled by Tracy Letts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play August: Osage County when it was performed in Sydney in 2010. In this equally enthralling film version, directed by John Wells (known for the TV series Shameless and The West Wing), newcomers to the story are not surprised when they discover that the vitriolic matriarch of the Weston family is suffering from cancer of the mouth. For the prescription drug-addled Violet, perfectly portrayed by the Queen of Hollywood, Meryl Streep (Hope Springs / The Iron Lady), has an extremely bitter tongue and an acid way with words. In this blistering performance, Streep makes you feel like going home and hugging your relatives, for surely they can’t be as bad as this.
The family saga is set in and around the Weston’s rambling homestead in rural Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Violet’s husband, the long-suffering alcoholic and acclaimed poet Beverly (Sam Shepard – Killing Them Softly/ Safe House), has disappeared, an act that we learn has happened before. This prompts the return home of the three sisters: Barbara (Julia Roberts – Eat Pray Love/ Mirror Mirror: The Untold Adventures of Snow White), facing an acrimonious split from her husband, Bill (Ewan McGregor – The Impossible / Salmon Fishing In The Yemen), and mother to a surly adolescent daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine/ Rango). Barbara sets the tone for her miserable take on life when she questions the wisdom of ‘…fucking over the natives’ for possession of such a barren soulless piece of land; Karen (Juliette Lewis – Conviction / Due Date), the dippy, self-absorbed sibling who arrives with her philandering fiancée, Steve (Dermot Mulroney – Jobs/ The Grey); and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson- Law And Order: Criminal Intent / Boardwalk Empire), the down-trodden mousey youngest of the three, who carries a secret, one which will eventually grind her into the dirt even more. The rest of the returning relatives are Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale – The Hours / Million Dollar Baby), who absorbs all Violet’s ‘fat’ barbs and is married to Charlie (Chris Cooper – The Company You Keep/ Where The Wild Things Are), whose set facial expression displays years of forbearance, and her son, ‘little Charles’ (Benedict Cumberbatch – The Fifth Estate/ 12 Years A Slave), rounding off this messy gene pool. When Beverly’s body is discovered and it appears to be suicide, Violet ups her drug cocktail and the drama really starts to kick in; after the funeral the family gathers for a remembrance lunch and the bile begins to pour from her by the bucket load. ‘What! I’m just telling the truth is all’ is her war-cry.
Tracy Letts also wrote the screenplay and has succeeded in bringing his work to the screen as a perfectly pitched drama, broadening it out and so casting aside the feel of a play. The fact that it largely takes place in the one location adds to the claustrophobia of the situation; there is no escape, either for those on screen, or the audience. We, like the characters, are caught like rabbits in the high-beam of Violet’s venom. Streep will likely miss out on this year’s Best Actress Oscar gong as the members of the Academy will probably vote for Cate Blanchet, however, as always, Streep is magnificent. It takes a lot of courage for an actor to garner admiration for a role that is so utterly unrelenting in its nastiness and fortified by lines such as, ‘Are we breaking shit now, uh? I can break shit! Hey! See, everybody can break some shit!’ Her performance is backed up by every member of the ensemble. Even though you feel as if you have been put through a wringer, it must be said that this is a must-see - not only for the script but also for the performances, which are simply stunning. August: Osage County makes one’s life at home seem happily dull in comparison!