Film: "August Osage County"; Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, Margo Martindale, Chris Cooper, Dermot Mulroney and Julianne Nicholson; Director: John Wells; Rating: ***1/2
Shame and scandals within the family have always been excellent ingredients for a robust film, and there is plenty of it here in "August Osage County".
Based on a play by Tracy Letts, this is a character-driven film where the plot revolves around the dysfunctional family of the Westons who live in August Osage County.
With his three daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) out on their own, author and poet Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) finds himself seeking comfort in the bottle while trying to escape from his cantankerous "cancer-stricken, pill-popping" wife, Violet (Meryl Streep). They co-exist while leading their own lives, till one fine day Beverly, without any warning or announcement moves out.
After Violet half-heartedly and grudgingly informs her daughters and her family, which includes her boisterous and rowdy sister Mattie (Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) of her husband's disappearance, they congregate.
Each one comes with their own baggage of heartaches, pain and anguish. Barbara, the oldest comes with her soon to be divorced husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and teen daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin). Karen the other daughter comes with her scummy fiance Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Also there is the cousin, 'Little Charlie' and the live-in maid.
Once cooped together, their anguish explodes exposing the angst and resentment that each member of the family harbours within them and against each other. The dining table is the battlefield where issues, problems and secrets are discussed and trashed.
Each character, from the oldest to the youngest is well defined with each one having a meaningful and crucial moment to display their histrionics. The nature, tone and graph of every personality is archetypal and follows a dynamic sequence that opens up the film to Streep's showy performance.
While it is fascinating to observe the layers of this family unfold with brilliant performances from the lead pair, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, it is the climax that seems unnatural, rigid and borderline over-the-top, a bit disappointing considering that the two ladies are such natural actors.
Juliette Lewis as Karen brings a much needed flightiness and amusing relief to the brawl, but her reactions are often tacky, misleading her act as a stereotypical bimbo whereas Julianne Nicholson as Ivy, who innocently and patiently waits to put up her defences when the conflict inevitably pushes her away from her family, seems to be lost in the farce.
Being a matriarchal family, you realize that the men are relegated to the background and are wasted.
The terse dialogues that discuss traits and genes are packed with a no-holds barred vocabulary which flows freely owing to the character's frustrations and good intentions. They evoke disgust, aversion, sadness and pity.
The camera elegantly captures every nuance of the mood swings and with a very decent production quality, director John Wells has managed to pull this play through giving it a life.
Overall, the film is a satisfying rich brew of drama.