"I thought we were having a funeral dinner not a cockfight."
Based on Tracy Letts' Pulitzer winning play of the same name, August: Osage County is a dark comedy about a dysfunctional family that are reunited for their father's funeral and several secrets are revealed along the way. This is director John Wells' follow up to his 2010 film The Company Men, with Letts adapting the screenplay of his own play. Add a very talented cast to the mix and you have all the right elements for a successful film, but somehow it failed to engage me. The characters in this film are so unlikable and they treat each other so terribly that I just found this film hard to enjoy. This is one family I would like to stay as far away as possible, and therefor I never felt comfortable watching this. This is an extremely verbally violent film which proves the point that words can hit harder than stones. August Osage County does have several positive things going for it beginning with some terrific performances from Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. It also has a very witty and sharp screenplay as several secrets revealed along the way come as a surprise. It is a powerful film, but one that I never felt comfortable watching due to the fact I despised the way these characters treated each other. It was a depressing film, much like Lett's previous adapted play, Killer Joe. Despite having some fun moments I still felt like I'd be better off keeping away from this depressing story.
The film opens with Beverly (Sam Shepard) interviewing a young Native American woman named Johnna (Misty Upham) for a position as a live-in maid. He tells her about his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) who has been diagnosed with cancer and her addiction to pills. He and his wife have made an agreement, he doesn't say anything to him about her addiction and she doesn't bother him for being an alcoholic. It's just the way they deal with each other and their problems. Violet interrupts the interview and seems disturbed because she doesn't think she needs anyone taking care after her. Several days later it appears that Beverly has gone missing. The first to arrive at Violet's home providing support are her daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and Fae's husband Charlie (Chris Cooper). Violet spends most of her time drinking pills and criticizing her family, especially Ivy for still being single. Violet's oldest daughter, Barbara (Julia Roberts) arrives with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their fourteen year old daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) just around the moment that they discover Beverly's boat is missing. Later that afternoon, the local sheriff arrives and announces they have found Beverly's body, saying that he committed suicide and drowned himself. Several days later the funeral is held and the rest of Violet's family arrives, including her other daughter, Karen (Juliette Lewis) with her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney) . The stage is set as they gather together for diner after the service and chaos ensues as secrets are revealed and horrible things are said to each other.
Meryl Streep may have just played her meanest role to date. She is a paranoid and dysfunctional woman who clearly has affected her children in the way she raised them. Julia Roberts also holds her own against Streep as they share some very powerful scenes together. The dialogue is witty and funny at times, while revealing some surprises along the way, but it's just the way these people treat each other that makes you want to stay away from them. The performance from the entire cast was above par, and the film succeeds in portraying them as these despicable and hateful people. Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Cooper being both perhaps the most sympathetic characters in the film, although they do have their flaws as well. Despite all the strong performances I do believe Roberts and Streep steal each scene they are in. They deserve all the recognition they've been receiving, but I just had a hard time watching this movie and getting through the entire thing. This is one of those stories that seem to have worked better as a play than in the big screen.