For better or worse there is no doubt that August: Osage County is a performance heavy film.
Directed by John Wells (The Company Men) the movie tells the story of one of the most dysfunctional families we’ve seen onscreen. The story centers on the a family dominated by strong willed women and the men who tag along whose lives have taken separate paths until a family tragedy forces them all back under the same roof, the Midwest house they grew up in and puts them face to face with the pill popping, aggressive force of nature that is their matriarch, Violet (Meryl Streep).
None of these people are happy, there seems to be no silver lining in sight for any of them-and I guess that’s one of the points of the film, that life can and will beat you down no better how tough or able bodied that you are, life can still get the best of you. Your job then is to pick up the many pieces of you scattered on the ground, and compile your best self and get on with the day.
It’s a movie about the trials of our parents and how their hardships are always worse than the ones of their children. It’s about mothers and daughters and how with age the child begins to see more and more of the parent in their reflection. In this case it’s a troubling revelation and it forces Barbara’s (Julia Roberts) hand when she’s faced with the realization that she and her mother are more similar than she’d ever thought possible.
This film has a lot of good ideas and a lot of great acting moments and a dinner table scene that walks away with the movie and refuses to return it but the pace, the acting that wasn’t so great and the never ending melodrama drags down the potential.
Simply put the first 45 minutes are just dull-nodding head and heavy blinking dull. It takes a sharp and entertaining turn after the first third is over but from then onwards the damage is done.
The acting is a mess across the board. There is the one standout in Julia Roberts who more than deserves her Supporting Actress Oscar nomination as Barbara as she plays violently angry, stubborn and worn down with grace. But then there’s the always great Meryl Streep turning in the worst performance of the movie, forgetting to act for a camera rather than a live audience and turns in a hammy, scene chewing performances that takes up far too much screen time.
The ensemble otherwise consists of strong but forgettable performances-Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper & Julianne Nicholson-, to the good but miscast-Benedict Cumberbatch and Juliette Lewis-, to the just plain bad-Ewan McGregor whose attempt at an American accent made it sound as if he were forming words around a mouth full of cotton balls.
The oftentimes over the top performances coupled with the unrelenting script makes for an exhausting film-not exactly a convincing argument to see a movie. I understand the need to stay faithful to source material, however, for cinematic purposes liberties can be made to allow for a more movie friendly tone which was lost in translation in terms of this film. It is non-stop drama from the beginning of the film to the end and due to that all shock value is lost at the half-way mark, making some of the latter revelations seem more muted than they might have been with a better editor.
Ultimately it depends on the type of film fan you are if this movie seems worth your time. There are undoubtedly some strong performances and it isn’t a bad film, but it’s a film that in a few years I doubt anyone will be able to remember.