AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.
Director: John Wells
Writers: Tracy Letts (screenplay), Tracy Letts (play)
Meryl Streep, Dermot Mulroney, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGreor, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Misty Upham
Weinstein Company, The (presents)
Jean Doumanian Productions
Battle Mountain Films (in association with)
Yucaipa Films (in association with)
I watched this on Movies on Demand last Sunday with a good friend and a bottle of champagne. There were times we wanted to stop watching it, but thinking the piece might gel at any moment we continued to the end.
Everyone does a great job acting their parts, but they are not acting together. This was a play, and my friend immediately noticed that it felt like a play in its staging and in the writing. Wikipedia calls it a darkly comic play. And there are funny moments and lines but mostly it felt disconnected, like this wasn’t really a family at all as they get together for the funeral of the father of the family. And, maybe the point is just that — family does not make you a good person, a nice person; it just makes you family. Maybe the play is partly looking at what the bonds of family truly are.
I was surprised to see both Ewan McGregor and Benedict Cumberbatch in the film. Cumberbatch’s character might be what used to be called “slow;” it’s hard to know whether he is or if he’s just nervous because his mother is nasty to him. It is almost impossible to see Cumberbatch and think his character is anything less than brilliant. I get actors stuck in my head that way, and Cumberbatch’s roles with which I am familiar have been brilliant sociopaths.
But, this is supposed to be an ensemble piece where the characters work together and here I felt they were merely upstaging the other. And, each role is a plum role, filled with the meaty chunks of emotional content that an actor could really lose themselves in, and the actors each take their parts and act the hell out of them. And, plays have a way of being overacted and still working that sometimes doesn’t work on the small screen.
I think, also though, that most people will see a little bit of their own families in August: Osage County. I know I saw some of mine, although mine was more civil, usually at meals. Meryl Streep may have been channeling one of my late aunts.
The movie is worth watching just for the sets. The decor is an character on it’s own. The sets are richly detailed and the walls are luscious.
We were a little confused about the “when” of the setting. Except for a Ferrari, the cars are all older than the original play’s 2007 debut, so we weren’t sure if the movie had a contemporary setting or if it is supposed to be recent past. Only one cell phone appears, no one is texting or goes online. Maybe it has to do with the timelessness of the story or of the plains of Oklahoma where it is set.
The Upshot is that the film is worth the time it takes to watch it, but it is not always easy to watch and bear. Definitely fine for the small-screen.