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Film review - August: Osage County

Image from the film August: Osage County
A film adaptation of the Pulitzer winning play about the complexities of family life.

The censor’s warning is apt—if August: Osage County doesn’t disturb you, there’s something wrong with your empathy settings.

A Pulitzer-winning play that playwright Tracy Letts adapted for screen, this is a cautionary tale about the cost of lies, enabled addiction and downright dysfunctional parenting. It’s also a reminder that the life cycle of any family offers myriad opportunities for nurture and encouragement, but that when these are missed, chaos and dire consequences ensue.

Director John Wells steered the ship on ER and West Wing, so he’s no stranger to rapid-fire verbal exchanges—be they witty or vitriolic. In August: Osage County, the chief protagonists in this battle of words that sometimes spills over into physical conflict are mother and daughter Violet and Barb Weston, played spectacularly by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.

The sudden disappearance of alcoholic father Beverly Weston (Sam Shepherd) sees the rest of the clan return to the family’s farmhouse in rural Oklahoma. They arrive in dribs and drabs to a house caught in the oppressive August heat, but even more oppressively in the clutches of matriarch Violet, a bitter and manipulative woman who is suffering from mouth cancer and addicted to narcotics. Violet’s decision to embark on a practice of ‘truth telling’ devastates her nearest and dearest.

The rest of the ensemble cast perform admirably, but it is Streep and Roberts who steal the show. Both are deservedly nominated for Oscars—Streep for best actress and Roberts for best supporting actress.

The audience is the fly on the wall, almost literally watching all hell break loose in a family that clearly didn’t have enough heaven in its past. Although a disturbing watch, August: Osage County gives viewers a lot to think about—hopefully cautions them toward more open and honest family relationships, rather than the practices of secret keeping and sabotage.

By Christina Tyson

August: Osage County
Genre: Black Comedy/Drama
Director:  John Wells
Rating: M (offensive language, drug use & content that may disturb)
Run time: 2 hours