By no means is it a stretch to say that Meryl Streep is at a point in her career where she can be expected to be nominated for numerous acting awards every time she takes a role. The people who make the choice to reward her love what she does, and she rewards them by giving them plenty to admire whenever she graces the screen with her presence. With that being the case, I think Streep and the voters who admire her work may have once again found something with her role in August: Osage County.
In it, Streep stars as Violet Weston, a heavily medicated woman who’s suffering from cancer of the mouth both literally and figuratively. As you’ll witness, she has no issue with saying what she wants, when she wants and to whoever she wants. That can probably explain why she and her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) live an isolated existence in a dark and lifeless home where they once raised all of their daughters. She doesn’t appear to be someone who will be liked by many, and it’s easy to see why.
With the existence that’s being lived by the two seniors being what it is, I’m sure there’s a chance that Violet may be okay with the fact that Beverly decided to hire Johnna Monevata (Misty Upham) as a maid to help around the house. Bringing her in could help keep things tidy, but a third person living under this roof may also be able to bring some life into a home that appears to be in desperate need of something. That could have been the best that one could hope for, but things actually take a dramatic shift in another direction once Beverly manages to disappear without a trace.
His disappearance doesn’t only cause stress and concern, it also brings about an unintentional and unfortunate family reunion that not too many of its participants appear to want any part of. What arises as a result of this get together is a myriad of physical, emotional and mental issues that are complicated by Beverly’s sudden departure and the large amount of skeletons waiting to be let out of the family closet. With all of this comes a ton of hostility and a large quantity of new scars that hurt just as bad as the original ones that the family were trying to cover up.
In the middle of all of this mess stands a family of women who have problems with one another and themselves. Some of it has to do with their pasts, while some of it has to do with what may lie in their futures. Regardless of what direction these issues are coming from, they all let the audience know why these people have been doing all they can to avoid each other even though blood and marriage have tied them together for all of these years.
This movie about a dysfunctional family with a group of socially impaired women at the center of it all is crude and unglamorized, yet done seemingly to the point where it’s too unrealistic. There are families and people out there with issues that are raised in this film, but everything here seems a bit sensationalized and subhuman. Every single one of these women in the Weston family is terrible and/or has some major issue. That’s probably the main thing that makes it seem so flawed and unbelievable. You’d think at least one of them would be at least somewhat normal and have no major flaws.
I also find it hard to believe that women like the ones featured in this movie would all find men who were not only dumb enough to date them, but also dumb enough to commit to them for such long periods of time. Finding men crazy enough and patient enough to subject themselves to the attitudes and behaviors of women like this is not unheard of, but would it be possible to find this many of them willing to enter into such fractured and belligerent family? The men in this film are mostly nice guys who seem to be very passive for the most part, but could I possibly see this many of them settling for women like this? Not really.
When that’s included into everything else in August: Osage County, it makes the movie itself feel like it’s being negative just to be negative while seeing how much trashiness they can fit into the story. I may have found it more tolerable or more believable if there was just an inkling of hope or some kind of positivity somewhere in the entire film. Movies like this deserve that to at least a small degree. It might make it feel a little bit more balanced even if it still leans heavily toward the instability and insanity that is seen here.
August: Osage County is essentially an attempt to see if they can make a movie with the most messed up family ever showcased outside of a horror film. If that’s what they were aiming for, then they may have accomplished their goal, but none of it makes for a watchable film containing a sound level of quality. There’s not much else in it, and it may not find a large audience outside of anyone who wants to see Meryl Streep put on a professional acting performance while being the ring leader of a bunch of miserable people with no chance of stability in their lives.
I didn’t see the Tracy Letts play that this Tracy Letts scripted movie is based on, but I hope there was more meat and purpose at the core than what we see here. Maybe there are some qualities there that could help explain why the play was appealing to many and why they decided to attempt to turn this into a film. There could have also been some more redeeming qualities somewhere in the story that didn’t need to be altered or cut down so it could be turned into a motion picture.
While watching this, I came to the conclusion that maybe the August: Osage County play just wasn’t meant to be turned into an August: Osage County film. Just seeing it for what it is, the story at the center of it all looks to me like it would lend itself to its original stage format more than it would anything else. I think there would be more potential for something more engaging and emotional when watching it in that way. Doing it in a feature film format however, seems to prevent it from being all it could have been.
If I’m correct, then all of that soul that was in the stage version was obviously lost in translation if it was ever there at all. The small details that could serve as crucial elements are missing from the feature film version that we get here. There’s also a distinguishable lack of emotional connectivity to the characters from my standpoint. I didn’t care about any of them or what they wanted throughout the entire two hours or so that this went on.
Sitting in a theater to watch a stage performance of August: Osage County may be different, because it could allow one to lose themselves in the environment that was created. When in this position, what’s going on in the story is mostly in your mind as you’re watching everything escalate. I also think that a lack of music would probably be a positive feature in this as well. These factors combined could lead to the creation of a compelling story that’s worth viewing.
Unfortunately, the film version doesn’t have any of that and it sinks the more and more it forgets about poor old Beverly and focuses on the outrageous family issues surrounding the Weston women. There doesn’t appear to be much to find attractive for any reasonable person to want to be a part of this family, and there’s not a lot to be attracted to in August: Osage County as a whole. Meryl Streep probably earned herself a few more nominations, but there’s nothing else in it for me. It would have been nice to have been able to experience something that could keep up with what she and some of the other actors brought to the table.
Director: John Wells
Film Length: 119 minutes
December 25, 2013 (Limited)
January 10, 2014 (Wide)
Distributor: The Weinstein Company