In ‘August: Osage County’ temperatures and tempers rise
“Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts.” – Anonymous
August: Osage County is all about family and the strong-willed women who keep them together, or tear them apart. Adapted by Tracy Letts from his own Pulitzer and Tony award winning play, it is the tale of the Weston family.
“Beverley Weston” (Sam Shepard) is the patriarch. He was once a poet of some renown but now spends his days drinking too much alcohol in an effort to ease the pain of what his life has become. He lives with his wife “Violet Weston” (Meryl Streep) who is addicted to prescription drugs, suffers from cancer of the mouth, won’t give up her cigarettes and has a tongue that’s been sharpened to razor-like perfection.
They have three daughters, two of whom no longer live in the rural area outside Pawhuska, OK. “Ivy” (Julianne Nicholson) still lives in the area and resents her sisters “Barbara” (Julia Roberts) and “Karen” (Juliette Lewis) for leaving her to care for their parents.
Soon after Beverley has hired a Native American woman named “Johnna” (Misty Upham) as live-in cook and housekeeper, he disappears. Upon realizing he hasn’t returned, Violet phones her sister “Mattie Fae” (Martindale) and her daughters and they all show up. Mattie Fae brings her husband “Charles” (Chris Cooper) while Barbara brings her husband “Bill” (Ewen McGregor) and daughter “Jean” (Abigail Breslin). Karen has her new boyfriend “Steve” (Dermot Mulrooney) in tow. After a few days have passed, they learn that Beverley had drowned in the nearby lake.
Now there’s a funeral and the last player in this drama, “Little Charles” (Benedict Cumberbatch), son of Charles and Mattie Fae somehow manages to be late to his uncle’s funeral. After the funeral they sit down at the Weston home for a family dinner and things get out of hand. Violet has decided this is the right moment for her to do some “truth-telling”, managing to enrage just about everyone. She may be addled by her addiction, but she is quite perceptive. Each of the people sitting around the table with her has a secret and she has somehow divined most of them. It is the revelation of these secrets and how they impact relationships that provides the most interesting and compelling portion of the movie
It should come as no surprise that author Tracy Letts is a brilliant writer and actor. His mother, Billie Letts is a professor of writing at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, and author of the award-winning novel “Where The Heart Is.” His father, Dennis Letts was a Fulbright Scholar who was also a professor of writing and English for most of his adult life, before becoming an actor. This is the third time that Tracy Letts has adapted one of his plays for the big screen and it’s wonderful.
Director John Wells does not have a lot of experience as a director, but more than a decade as showrunner and head writer for the television series ER probably helped. He certainly provided his cast with a landscape that allowed them to put every iota of talent they possess on the screen.
Like the other works from Tracy Letts, the film is more than a bit dark and yet evokes laughter. Don’t miss it.