Friday, January 10, 2014


Aging parents and the family dynamics are at the crux of this movie.  There is an overwhelming responsibility among children when they have to become caregivers and deal with the death of a parent.  But what happens when this situation is placed upon a very dysfunctional family full of emotional scars and secrets?  Chaos.  Chaos in a controlled form full of drama, humor, and cutting emotional interactions.  That's what happens.  AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY was originally a play performed at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre.  Both the play and the screenplay were written by Steppenwolf's Tracy Letts ensuring the integrity of the film compared with the play.  For those who were lucky enough to see the play, I am sure you will find this to be true.

To say that this is an engaging film is far too understated.  From the moment Bev (Sam Shepard) and Violet (Meryl Streep) verbalize the first lines of the film, you are hooked.  You realize this couple has more issues at hand than the average couple.  The dialogue between them is cutting, slicing like razors until Bev just can't take it anymore.  You see the pain he has endured and the sickness of the relationship between the two of them.  As the family arrives for Bev's funeral, you see that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  Each and every daughter has issues and their interactions with their mother tell it all.  There is a guilt complex that every child has, but again, this goes much deeper here.  Then there is prescription drug use and alcohol to cope with so many levels of guilt, anger, and regret.  Even as the siblings try to come to some terms with their mother and each other along with recognizing the need for family, each one of them learns about one another.  And it's not always a pleasant experience.  But within all of this there is such humor!  Every level of humor you can imagine.  From sarcasm to relatable experiences, to embarrassing situations, AUGUST has it all.  The film couldn't have relayed a better, more complete story than this.

This is truly one of the best casts I can imagine.  Meryl Streep is, of course, outstanding as the bitter, angry mother and newly widowed wife.  With all the daggers she throws, both visually and verbally, you can't help but be angry with her.  She will definitely not win Mother of the Year.  However, as the secrets and "truth telling" continues, you find empathy for her.  With Streep's extraordinary acting skills, she brought Violet to life.  As the matriarch of the family, she showed strength and determination utilizing her powerful language---wielding it like a sword and beheading anyone who dared challenge her.  Streep was truly powerful in this role.  And there wasn't a weak link in the cast.  Julia Roberts, however, was another standout as her character seemed to have had the biggest issues with her mother.  This is by far the best role Roberts has had.  What talent she possess and has now been able to share with an audience!  She was real and emotional yet guarded.  She was hurt and pushed away those around her, but again by doing so, proved that apple-tree adage.  Every actor played their part to its fullest which is what made this play-turned-film work.  The acting in this is so much more than just delivering lines.  It is the ability to use nuances.  These actors all give such depth to their characters to make this an outstanding film.

How do I describe the writing?  It's superb.  It's quick-paced tempo placing importance on each and every line is amazing.  Dare I say it borders on brilliance.  There are so many unexpected twists and turns that you must pay careful attention or you will miss something.  Then to have to take a 3 hour play and turning it into a 2 hour movie is a daunting task, but Letts doesn't let us down.  As Dermot Mulroney relayed after the premier at the Chicago International Film Festival, much can be conveyed visually in a movie that cannot be done in a play.  For those of you who have seen the play, the dinner scene is exactly as it was in the play.  Not a word was dropped.  Your jaw will also drop as you watch and listen to the dialogue.  This scene truly gave each character a chance to show how they fit (or didn't) into this family.

AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY is  ultimately a powerful film with skillful performances, deft directions, and impeccable writing.  The style of cinematography allowed you to feel as if you were a fly on the wall watching these people wrestle with their demons.  Every family is dysfunctional, but this family takes it to a whole new level.  It's full of irony, humor, and even love.  This may sound contrite, but you will laugh, be aghast, even get a little choked up in parts as you watch this outstanding film.  Rarely can a play be transformed to the silver screen and bring the story to life.  AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY does.

9 1/2 STARS

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