Violet Weston is a force to be reckoned with, and who better to bring that to life on screen than Meryl Streep? "August: OsageCounty" was originally an extremely successful Broadway play penned by Pulitzer Prize-winning Tracy Letts, who also wrote this screenplay.
Osage is a county in Oklahoma, home of the Osage Nation. Director John Wells made a decision to actually film in Osage instead of trying to duplicate the rugged plains indigenous to the area. But it's also the kind of rural place that sends young girls packing for a more exciting existence, which is exactly what two of Violet and Beverly's (Sam Shepard) daughters did.
Barbara (Julia Roberts) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) made the break, while Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) stayed behind, never married and continues to watch over her parents. A family tragedy brings Barbara and Karen back to Osage, husbands, boyfriends and children in tow.
There are multitudes of movies about dysfunctional families, though "August: OsageCounty" is better than most. Letts' writing is wickedly funny, but, at times, a tad over the top. The funniest and most outlandish repartee takes place between Violet and Barbara, whom Violet blames for Beverly's despair.
Everyone has secrets in this crazy family, and some of them are doozies. It isn't all fun and games, there is a great deal of high drama, especially in the lengthy dining room scene. Violet is a real firecracker and never misses an opportunity to let someone have a piece of her mind. She's verbally abusive to everyone, especially the housekeeper Johanna Monevata (Misty Upham) Beverly hired to take care of Violet.
The cast is the best attribute of "August: OsageCounty", and not just Streep and Roberts. Wells has assembled an amazing group, including Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch and Dermot Mulroney. My two favorites are Margo Martindale, who plays Mattie Fae Aiken, and Nicholson.
Though Streep and Roberts will most likely receive Oscar nominations (they're both up for the Golden Globes), I think Martindale is much more deserving. She is such a fine actress and always brings so much to her roles. Mattie Fae is a pivotal character and Martindale plays her with an astonishing honesty.
Nicholson is perfectly heartbreaking as lonely, put-upon Ivy. She is such a quietly wonderful actress with a truly expressive face and darling freckles. We want so badly for Nicholson's Ivy to be happy.
With such a remarkable cast and gifted screenwriter, it's difficult to determine why "August: OsageCounty" isn't a great film. David and I did not see the play, which many have said is so much better. Perhaps Letts lost something in the translation.
Opinion: Wait for DVD
Meryl Streep leads the world with 17 Academy Award nominations. She will likely get number 18 for her role in "August: OsageCounty", screenplay by Chicago writer Tracy Letts, based on his own Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play of the same name.
Accompanying Streep is an all-star cast with a laundry list of Oscar and Emmy nominations and wins, including Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch. The film covers a crisis in the life of the Weston family, and the ensuing interactions between the family members.
Streep is Violet Weston, the headstrong, heavy drinking and chain-smoking matriarch with three daughters, Barbara (Roberts), Ivy (Nicholson) and Karen (Lewis). The other cast members play friends and relatives who have gathered for the somber occasion, although the unfolding family dynamics are anything but somber.
Filmed on location in Osage County, Oklahoma, and directed by John Wells (himself a multiple Emmy winner and nominee for "The West Wing" and "ER"), "August: OsageCounty" is an often fascinating look at a family that is simultaneously normal and dysfunctional. Word has it that the movie does not do justice to the play because of time constraints, but if you haven't seen the play, chances are your enjoyment of the film will not be diminished. I haven't and I like the movie for its terrific ensemble acting, its humor and its humanity.
Streep is simply sensational --- as usual, we forget she's acting and we are immersed in her on-screen persona. And she has a lot of company! Literally all the cast members, at one time or another, have their grand moment in the telling of Letts' story. Most, if not all, of the actors had seen the play, and once Wells approached them about a specific part to play, they were eager to join the group. Meanwhile, scouting around for the ideal property, the filmmakers actually purchased the house (which was on the market) where the movie takes place.
"August: OsageCounty" is not particularly uplifting, but the writing is so superior, and the cast so engaging, I can heartily recommend it.
Opinion: See It Now!