August: Osage County features its own special sort of effed up family. Matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) is a withering mean old biddy. Violet has been diagnosed with mouth cancer—which is a little bit more than symbolic, considering all the bile that comes spewing from her face in the form of words. Of her three children, the middle daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) has been the one to stay home and take care of mom, since the others (Julia Roberts and Juliette Lewis) literally took the first opportunity to bolt out of town. Problem is, they’ve all boomeranged home to dusty Oklahoma because their dad Beverly (Sam Shepard) hopped in his truck to go fishing and never came home. Nothing like a missing-presumed-dead patriarch to bring a bitter extended family back together for a reunion!
Betraying its stage roots, this is one talky film. But the original play also won a slew of awards, so it is a juicy showcase for dialogue and acting. Everyone (and there are a LOT of characters) pretty much gets one showcase scene in which to show off their screaming and fighting abilities, and hooo-eee, there are some good smackdowns. There is even a full-on physical brawl that is a result of perhaps the tensest family dinner scene in recent memory. And here I went into the movie as decidedly NOT a Julia Roberts fan… but when Julia’s REALLY bitter eldest daughter Barbara leaps up to tackle her horrid mean mother, I almost wanted to scream, “Oh, you GO girl!”
Despite the dark cloud of crank, bile, and bitter that all of the characters bring to this haunted house of a family’s shared memories, August: Osage County is a meanly entertaining movie, with nary a weak link in the cast. Everyone—from suave Dermot Mulroney, to sassy Margot Martindale, to sensitive Chris Cooper, to flailing Benedict Cumberbatch—gets a moment to shine. The relationships are complex and complicated, and requisite dark secrets are revealed. And thankfully, there isn’t a group hug at the end where everyone kisses and makes up as the Oklahoma sun sets on the horizon. I may not want to ever… EVER hang out with this family, but it sure is kind of fun to be a looky-loo fly on the wall for a couple hours.