August: Osage County makes the leap from the Broadway stage to the silver screen with a cast that could not be better. Meryl Streep plays Violet Weston, the drug-addled matriarch of a family that if it was called dysfunctional would be a step up from what we experience during the film. Julia Roberts portrays her daughter Barbara Weston, who has escaped the Oklahoma family home to Denver with her husband (Ewan McGreggor) and daughter (Abigail Breslin). Roberts' Barbara returns home with her family when her father Beverly (Sam Shepard) goes missing.
Meanwhile, Barbara’s sister Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) also awaits the help of her third sister Karen (Juliette Lewis), who also got away from the family homestead in hopes of finding greener pastures. To say Ivy has a little bit of resentment towards her siblings is a gross understatement. While they have escaped the wrath of their mother, Ivy has been stuck taking care of her pill addicted mother and alcoholic father.
The rest of the cast eventually arrives as news of Beverly’s disappearance turns tragic. Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale’s in-laws do their best to comfort the all over the map emotions of Violet. Benedict Cumberbatch is their son Little Charles and he doesn’t know his place in this family, much less in his immediate one.
All told, it adds up to one hot mess of a clan -- teased in the August: Osage Country movie trailer -- and unfortunately the film mirrors that in many ways. The acting is top notch. In fact, it is a clinic in ensemble performance as well as individual thespian triumphs. We will likely see Oscar nominations for Streep and Roberts, but they can’t save the film from just above mediocrity. We feel that on paper this should have been a true triumph, but in the end, we don’t so much care about these characters. Perhaps it is because of how they are written. Or perhaps it is because of how director John Wells has put them together in his film.
There are terrific moments throughout, especially when two characters share time alone -- whether it's watching Roberts going toe-to-toe with the powerhouse that is Streep or the quieter beats between Cumberbatch and Nicholson. And like we said… this is an actor’s dream of a production. But it is also a case of the parts being greater than the whole.
Tracy Letts’ screenplay is based on her play and she does an uncanny job of capturing the emotional perfect storm of regret, guilt and kin camaraderie that is at the heart of her stage story. The film, in fact, feels like a play (except for Wells’ occasional gorgeous cinematography of the openness of the Oklahoma plains) and that would be fine if it didn’t feel so disjointed. By the time the entire sad affair comes to a close, our August: Osage County review finds one thing is for sure: No matter how hard it was to get through the holidays with your family, you will feel like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting compared to the Westons!