There is some brilliant acting on display here, a stellar star cast to put it mildly, and some amazingly powerful set pieces that dazzle and shock you to the core. Hilarious, shocking, moving, and yet something is amiss in August Osage County in terms of its story that leaves you a tad underwhelmed.
Violet Weston is an old foul mouthed matriarch whose husband goes missing and is later found dead. Her three daughters and extended family including an equally if not more foul mouthed sister and demure BIL come together for the funeral. What ensues is an unravelling of old skeletons from the Weston cupboards and a lot of self-reflection. A screen adaptaion of Tracy Lett’s Pulitzer winning play, AOC traces the idea of identity, family and womanhood with finesse and laced with an amazingly sharp dark humour.
August is a harsh dry hot month in Osage County, nothing is worse than spending the month with the Westons, or so it would seem. Relationships and families are too much to handle most of the time. Especially so when the age clock is ticking and you are either single, or in between a separation.
Then there is the ugly duckling in the family, the useless one who remains underwhelming as an adult as well. Every single flaw and crack in the family set up gets magnified and dissected in this two hour long Soap saga. No one is spared, no kindness shown, and every single character fault line is barred out in the open. Deliciously evil especially is Meryl Streep as the cancer stricken Violet.
The narrative begins with already messed up lives, emotionally charred and strained relationships. The characters make us hate them, revolting as they are in their choice of words and behaviour. Yet as the film progresses, we get to see that they are much more complex than they seem, that there is far too much pain from where the vile tongues lash out at each other, and we sympathise, if not empathise with most of them.
In one scene, the entire Weston family is seated for dinner post a funeral, Violet takes charge, her pill popping dazed mind decides to give the truth naked and stark dishing one rude comment after another as secrets are tossed and hurled garbed as accusations. Even the 14 year old granddaughter is not spared humiliation by her severely foul mouthed grandmother. No one butts in to pause the slandering and as an audience you get to see the ugliest underbelly of the Weston Family.
Yet, from there on, we are taken deeper into the psyches of these very revolting characters who just minutes ago had literally come to blows rolling on the ground. As an anguished and angry Julia Roberts orders her mother to “Shut the F*** up and eat the F*****g fish” you are less shocked by her manner and more saddened by the utter helplessness and disgust she has at her own self turning into her own mother.
Violets traumatized past is inherited in the form of extreme bitterness by Barbabra, her eldest daughter (A fantastic Julia) and her indifference to her own children affects her other two daughters, one who is a wandering serial lover falling for one wrong guy after the other, while the other is a passive underdog verging on incest. In two hours and a lot of screaming and shouting, we get a glimpse of the cycle of victimization that subconsciously families enter into, a never stopping chain of misery and ill treatment that families somehow find it in them to justify and perpetuate.
Needless to say, a lot of the impact that AOC makes is due to its stellar cast. Meryl Streep outdoes her own self as Violet. She is senile, addicted to pills, and has a tongue that is as a sharp and vile as a scorned witch. When she speaks, she sucks out hope from life, when she speaks, she manages to dim the brightest of spirits such is her discontent with her own life. As Violet, Streep not only makes us hate her, but also makes us realise the amount of pain and helplessness that is the cesspool from which sprouts her evil.
Giving her tough competition is Julia Roberts, perhaps in her finest turn after Erin Brokovich, as the earnest mother trying hard to deal with her own mom and her broken marriage and a teenage rebel of a daughter. The pain of grappling with her breaking family, facing the reality that she is turning into her mother, is beautifully brought to the fore. You rejoice at her bravado when she literally puts Violet to the ground and slaps her hard after the first vitriolic dinner episode. The other cast that impresses is Violets siter Matti Fey, played by the gregariously dominating Margo Martindale and the surprise passive take by Benedict Cummerbatch as Little Charles. It is these beautiful turns that divert attention from sometimes clichéd and mostly screaming soap opera-ish scale on which the film is mounted.
August Osage County hits you in the face with a tsunami of hatred, deceit pretence and family politics. It also warms your heart with the idea that no matter how wrong things in life are, one does find courage within them to trudge on. It is this sliver of hope that keeps a family together, that keeps one going on, a testimony to the fact that sometimes to keep a family together, it is best they stay apart.view less