August: Osage County (2013): Misery Loves Family

Posted: January 27, 2014 in Drama
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august_osage_county_ver2Concerned for his wife’s current medical condition, Beverly Weston chooses to hire a woman to help take care of their house and of Violet. Only two days later, Beverly goes missing and the family gathers at the Oklahoma home to console their sickly mother. It is only a short time later that the police find the remains of Beverly and inform the Weston family of his passing. As tensions have already started to rise with the conflicting personalities and many secrets being kept from each other, the funeral only continues to bring the aggression out of everyone. Leading the pack is the drug-obsessed matriarch, with her eldest daughter, Barbara, matching her mother step by step. While the family should be mourning their loss, tempers flare and all of the secrets that everyone is holding onto start spilling out.

Starring: Meryl Streep (Violet Weston), Julia Roberts (Barbara Weston), Chris Cooper (Charlie Aiken), Ewan McGregor (Bill Fordham), Margo Martindale (Mattie Fae Aiken), Sam Shepard (Beverly Weston), Dermot Mulroney (Steve Huberbrecht), Julianne Nicholson (Ivy Weston), Juliette Lewis (Karen Weston), Abigail Breslin (Jean Fordham), Benedict Cumberbatch (Little Charles Aiken)

This film combines Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts for the first time in their significantly successful careers and their roles are ones of strength, hard-headedness, and raw anguish. Both actresses give excellent career-defining performances. Chris Cooper walks away from the film as the one character who takes the moral high ground and shows the most care. McGregor, Mulroney, and Martindale each add a sense of deceit and disgruntled-ness to their characters’ perspectives. Lewis plays her character from a place of denial, while Cumberbatch and Nicholson both maintain secrecy while being the ploys of the biggest secret of the family.

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The film by John Wells was based upon a play created by Tracy Letts, which showcased the drama that takes place when a family keeps secrets from each other. While there were certain pieces of drama that were well known, like Beverly’s alcoholism and Violet’s drug abuse, Beverly’s death brought together a hotbed of problems that had been building over the years. Barbara and Bill had chosen to separate but had not determined whether they were pursuing a full divorce. Karen and Steve had met and gotten engaged, but Steve’s wandering eye was certainly something that Karen would have loved to turn a blind eye to. Ivy and Charles had developed a closeness that was frowned upon since they had grown up as first cousins and were planning to move to New York together. All of these secrets seemed to be unable to get beyond Violet’s grasp, but the biggest secret had the potential of destroying the family at its core.

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This family is one of great turmoil. While there were some humorous moments during the film, mostly surrounding the sarcastic prodding each family member engaged with the rest, most of the film exhibited how the secrets had been rotting the family from within. Violet was the biggest offender, as she was able to use guilt and shaming to manipulate those around her. Barbara’s strong will seemed to be the only thing that could break through, but even she started to realize late in the story that she was turning into something very close to her mother. The hard-headedness certainly appeared to be passed down to Barbara’s daughter, Jean, with her avoidant personality and rebellious spirit. For Barbara, the realization of her fate as her mother’s daughter did not occur until she was finally pushed over the edge with her mother’s manipulation.

This film has some terrific acting and presents more like a play than a feature film, but the presentation style leaves several slower moments in the storytelling and some gaps in understanding the symbolism of certain elements and scenes, such as when Violet goes running out into the open field and the family’s obsession with Jean’s dietary choices.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

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