August: Osage County
Dir: John Wells
Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts
There’s something about August: Osage County that makes it seem like Oscar bait. It’s got a gigantic array of talented Hollywood stars, it’s set in an overtly bleak and depressing rural Oklahoma, it’s got overtly dramatic accents, it’s got overtly dark plot machinations, overtly loud confrontations, overtly disturbing character traits.
Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep in the film
This is an overwrought film and textbook Academy bait, and ultimately not a very good film despite the talent driving it.
Directed by John Wells of the underrated The Company Men, August: Osage County is full of unlikable characters saying and doing unlikable things. Meryl Streep plays a cantankerous drug addict mother to Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson, who descend upon their old home after the man of the house (Sam Shepherd) dies in a car accident. One daughter severely dislikes the mother, one has drifted away from her family by getting engaged to a rich adulterous tycoon, and the third is stuck in the country because she has to take care of her mother. Dysfunctional would be an understatement, and on that front, this is a bold, ballsy movie.
It has been adapted from a Pulitzer winning play, but it plays out like a stage play rather than a film. Every actor here overdoes his/her scenes, as if trying to reach out for the furthermost eye and ear in the audience. Meryl Streep has a super heavy accent laced with choice expletives and she has shouting matches with Roberts who is equally profane. It gets pretty wild and frustratingly it all seems put on rather than natural. It gets really difficult to separate the film from the filmmaking and you end up being repelled by the characters instead of feeling any empathy for them.
The film also takes the route of poverty porn multiple times, and even makes the mistake of miscasting Benedict Cumberbatch. There’s a great dinner table scene where Streep’s character destroys the self-respect of a half a dozen people and it’s the only scene in the film that has fiery intensity without the layer of fakeness. But it’s only a brief respite in a ton of glumness, sweat and a heavy atmosphere.