Review: Streep owns ‘August: Osage County’
by Emma Chiu
Published March 2, 2014
Unless you’re a Meryl Streep fangirl or power-cast fanatic, “August: Osage County” is probably not the final film for you to squeeze in just before the Oscars.
“August: Osage County,” directed by John Wells (“ER,” “Shameless”), is the film version of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay. It tells the story of three sisters (Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis) who, after going their separate ways, come together to their Oklahoma childhood house after a family tragedy strikes. With other family members, including their dysfunctional mother Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), they learn about lies, beauty and individual struggles.
In this dark comedy, the most intriguing part of the film is not necessarily the plot but rather the characters that the actors bring to life and their interactions with one another. Although one of the major criticisms about the film is that the director and the actors did not understand the essence of the play, this ought to be overlooked by potential audiences because the actors’ interpretations were still excellent and very enjoyable.
All of the actors were quite wonderful to watch because of their tone, voice inflection and body language. The queen of them all, however, is none other than the one and only Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady,” “Sophie’s Choice”). Within the character Violet Weston, so many of Streep’s previous roles come together (e.g. the demanding Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada,” the fun yet dysfunctional Donna Sheridan from “Mamma Mia!”), but are added with a blatant sass to make for an intriguing, hysterical character to watch. For many, Streep’s Oscar-nominated performance for Best Actress is a good enough excuse alone to see the film, and rightfully so.
The only other Oscar nomination “August: Osage County” received was Best Supporting Actress, given to Julia Roberts (“Pretty Woman,” “Notting Hill”) for her role as Barbara, the eldest of the three Weston daughters. Barbara is a bitter and ill-tempered woman with marriage troubles and a fading beauty, a very different role from what Roberts is mostly known for. Despite the big jump, Roberts holds her own and pulls off another compelling and funny performance for the film.
Not only did Roberts, Streep and all of the other actors deliver, but also more impressively the entire cast had fantastic chemistry. They all were on the same page as to how the tension of the room was supposed to feel, and also how any set of two characters felt about their relationship. With each one having their own acting styles and characters to portray, Wells deserves credit for finding such a perfect mix of actors.
For some audience members, the caliber of acting does not hold as much weight as it does for others, which is why “August: Osage County” is not for everyone. Some might find it too slow or boring, and the fact that the ending is pretty confusing doesn’t help either. While plot is not a strong point, the thematic topics make it a very interesting film, especially for someone who has never seen the play.
The dialogue between the characters makes the audience think about beauty, aging, lies and whether or not it is really better to hide the truth. This aspect of the film is very refreshing because it subtly raises awareness of the issues without making the audience feel pressured to analyze them as one would for an English project.
Aside from the deep characters, relationships and thematic topics, “August: Osage County” is still very funny, and definitely has many laugh out loud moments. It’s very enjoyable, but perhaps not the best call to see if you’re pressed for an Oscar film before the 86th annual Academy Awards are presented.
August: Osage County
2 hours 1 minute
Rated R for language including sexual references, and for drug material
Directed by John Wells
With Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin and Benedict Cumberbatch