Film Pop: August: Osage County

Year:  2013
Director:  John Wells
Stars:  Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis

As the Oscars approach (with the main bulk of nominations being released today in fact), I recently came to the conclusion that it’s about time for me to kick into gear and get up to date with some of the films tipped for awards. The number of new releases that I actually managed to see in 2013 was pretty woeful, but between now and the 2nd of March when the 86th Academy Awards will be played out I intend to get a little more familiar with the nominees.  August:  Osage County, adapted from the award-winning play of the same name by Tracy Letts, is almost guaranteed a couple of nominations and is an outsider for a few more.

aoc1In the titular Oklahoma county, alcoholic former poet Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) is interviewing young native American woman Johnna (Misty Upham) for the position of live-in carer for his narcotic-addicted cancer-suffering wife Violet (Streep).  When Beverly disappears, Violet summons her family for support:  sister Mattie Fae and her husband Charles (Margo Martindale & Chris Cooper respectively), and the Westons’ three daughters Barbara (Roberts), Karen (Lewis) and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson).  Strong-willed Barbara arrives with husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and teenaged daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) and immediately tries to wrest control of the family from her ailing, matriarchal mother, powerful despite her illness.  Often-absent Karen turns up with her latest boyfriend, sleazy Steve (Dermot Mulrooney) who soon sets about grooming 14-year-old Jean.  Youngest daughter Ivy lives locally and is single (at least as far as the rest of her family are concerned).  Beverly is shortly discovered drowned, having gone out alone on the lake in his boat.  After the funeral and the late arrival of Mattie Fae and Charles’s son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), the family proceeds to break down both emotionally and physically.  After a series of explosive confrontations and revelations Violet is gradually abandoned by her family and left broken, crying in the arms of quiet Johnna.

Happy families?
Happy families?

August: Osage County has been described as a “black comedy”, but in truth there’s very little comic about it.  It’s a very dark film, with light points few and far between.  In such a large, star-studded cast you might think that it would be hard to pick out individual performances, but this isn’t the case.  Unsurprisingly Streep steals the show as deeply afflicted Violet, and is a shoe-in for at least another Best Actress nomination (although an outsider for the win to strong favourite Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine).  Roberts, Lewis and Nicholson all play their respective parts superbly, although Roberts is of course no stranger to the “fierce, independent woman” role.  A special mention goes to Benedict Cumberbatch (who turned out to be the reason my girlfriend wanted to see this film) for a solid performance and an American accent that I’m assured by my Kentuckian other half was decent but no Okie (I paraphrase).  To be brutally honest the film doesn’t particularly stand out as anything special, but it’s worth a watch as a decent drama if you’re prepared for a depressing 2 hours and you want to see Meryl Streep do her thing.  And if it does get that elusive Best Picture nomination that’s only a bonus.

My Rating:  7/10


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