August: Osage County (2013) (R)

We all love dysfunctional family movies. We all love drama (well, almost all of us). We all love Meryl Streep. We all love Julia Roberts. We all love the point in the film where characters have had too much and they go on a screaming rampage because most of the time we don't get to have those moments. Our emotions build and boil but they never bubble over and emerge in such flashy performances that we all see and adore on screen. So in this way, "August: Osage County" seems like and is a sure hit. It features tremendous performances, precisely honed dialogue, and a sense of impending helplessness that overtakes you near the end of the movie.
Set in the Mid-West, we are introduced to the Weston family. Violet and Beverly (Meryl Streep and Sam Shepard) are the mother and father of the family. They have three daughters. The movie begins as Violet and Beverly are reaching a point in their long marriage where something's got to give. They've come to an agreement, Violet will take as many pills as she wants and Beverly can drink as much booze as he wants—being up front about their vices makes their bumpy relationship just a wee bit smoother.
At the movie's opening, which gives us stunning shots of the local scenery, wide and blank yet filled with beauty, Beverly is hiring a woman to help around the house. He confesses to the drinking and confesses for Violet about her pill-popping tendency. On cue, Violet stumbles into room and slurs out some unfortunate and incredibly mean sentences. She makes a fool out of herself before bumbling back out of the room, ushering in the main titles.
The Weston's daughter, Barbara (Julia Roberts) is woken from her sleep by a phone call from her mother with an unfortunate message: her father has disappeared. Whether he's off on a fishing boat or gone for good, the family is unsure so they rally around their emotionally disturbed matriarch.
Cousins, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, granddaughters, etc. etc. They all come from various parts of the country to offer up their support and a nice casserole to Violet.
What ensues is secrets spilling out the closet and nicely timed meltdowns that line up back-to-back. It could feel for some that Tracy Letts' Pulitzer winning play converted by herself to the screen is a mockery of the Mid-West family. Indeed there is a very hard edge of bitterness that permeates the script and the screen; but beneath all the horrible happenings of the Weston family, there is a certain amount of times when we feel that our families are not that different. There is truth in the film, beneath all the lies and the shoutings and swearing.
Yet if anything, we see the movie with a voyeuristic pleasure of seeing the family unfold. We see Meryl Streep's absolute brilliance once again; and Julia Roberts stuns as a daughter spurned. Perhaps the best performance in the star-laden film is Julianne Nicholson as the youngest daughter.
What the picture leaves you with is questions. What is the film saying? What happens at the end? At first I thought it was all about a dysfunctional family; but then I was reminded of how the movie began.
T. S. Eliot may have an insight into the film.
Whatever the reason, "August: Osage County" is easy to watch, easy to empathize with, and filled with great performances.

Score: ★★★

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