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Reviews » Theatrical Reviews » August: Osage County
August: Osage County
The Weinstein Company // R // December 25, 2013
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted December 24, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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Some film productions may have some of the most talented players in the industry, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's a winner of a film. Numerous motion pictures have failed, even with the involvement of Oscar-winners and other renowned names involved. While we all have our favorite stars, it's important to remember that the names involved in the production aren't always everything. Unfortunately, this is the case when it comes to August: Osage County. All of the pieces that one would expect to see from a fantastic film are present, but none of them are able to come together in order to create one cohesive piece. Distributed by The Weinstein Company with producer George Clooney and a top-notch cast (for the most part) have come together to bring this Pullitzer Prize-winning play to the big screen. While it has a moment or two, this is largely a weak motion picture that appears to only exist as Oscar-bait.

The Weston family has split in different directions, due to the chaotic family dynamic that is in place. Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) is a pill-popping mother who has mouth cancer. Due to a family crisis, three generations of members reassemble at Violet's home in order to get together during this difficult time. Barbara Weston (Julia Roberts) brings along her husband, Bill Fordham (Ewan McGregor), and their daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin) for the occasion. It doesn't take long for the family to return to its wild ways, as the dysfunctional women turn a family crisis into a full-fledged war filled with drama, deceit, and secrets.

August: Osage County gets off to a decent start, as it sets up for the family crisis. Violet is already in a full-swing of inappropriate conversation and rude remarks, due to the pills that she's been taking. There's a lot of foreshadowing and symbolism that takes place during the first act of the picture, as the family begins to get together. Nobody seems thrilled to see everybody else, as each individual has issues of their own that they're trying to keep secret. This is the "calm before the storm," as the film constantly builds upon itself. At first, Violet is portrayed as being a nasty, old lady who treats her children in a very disrespectful fashion. However, it's clear from the beginning that everybody is putting up a front in order to get through this painful event. Once we're introduced to Barbara, she becomes the primary focus of the motion picture. Despite the fact that she left the hectic environment known as her childhood home, her own family with Bill is incredibly crazy in its own way. Despite the decent build, August: Osage County soon transforms into the picture that it remains as through the remainder of the running time.

While I haven't seen the play on which this was based, this adaptation is so over-the-top, that it quickly pulled me out of the plot. In fact, I didn't find myself caring about any of the characters or their situations. None of them are interesting, as they're all loud and irritating characters that do nothing for me. This feature soon turns into a "gossipy" and uninteresting drama that is desperate to keep us engaged. It attempts to keep us captivated by having the roles constantly taking part in screaming matches, as well as presenting twists and turns that simply don't work. I understand that Letts wrote the play as well, but he's certainly reaching a bit too far to bring new developments. August: Osage County draws its entertainment from filling a house with incredibly flawed people and allowing them to go crazy. There's an attempt at providing some back story, which helps a little bit, although it certainly isn't enough to drive this entire picture. None of the drama feels natural or raw, and very little of it is actually funny.

If you're searching this review for a positive comment about the screenplay, then I have one for you. The dinner scene is the absolute best sequence of the entire film. This is when a lot of the plot developments come to reality. There's still a lot of screaming and whatnot done here, but it's the dialogue itself that saves it. Violet is so entirely inappropriate and wretched, that it makes for one hell of an entertaining scene. This is the major turning point in the film when the fake front that everybody had previously is torn apart. This ultimately turns into what becomes the most insane scene found through the running time, but in a good way. It managed to keep my attention and it most certainly had me listening to every word. After this point, August: Osage County drowns itself in plot twists, and it returns to the mess that it was before. Letts attempts to keep the story interesting by revealing new revelations, but there's no actual shock to any of it. This film lacks both the dramatic and comedic elements that could have made this an impactful piece of cinema.

The other element that made the dinner scene so wonderful is the cast. Everybody knows what to expect from a performance from Meryl Streep. She's absolutely impeccable in every sense of the word. Not only does she live and breathe the essence of the character, but her delivery is spot-on. Even with all of the horrendous comments that Violet makes to her own family, she still manages to comes across as being raw and emotional through an account of a Christmas that she had as a young girl with her mother. Streep has always been utterly captivating to watch on screen, and this is no exception. There's a reason why she has three Oscars thus far. However, Julia Roberts doesn't hold a candle up to Streep in any way. She plays Barbara Weston in a stilted and awkward fashion. I have never found her to be a very dynamic actress, and she has proven me correct once again. Once she gets into a yelling match with Streep, the winner is clear. The Pretty Woman star simply doesn't fit here. The remainder of the cast is quite impressive, as Ewan McGregor, Margo Martindale, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, and more deliver strong performances. It's such as shame that it appears as if they were simply instructed to yell and shout.

At this point, it's quite clear regarding my opinion of August: Osage County. I was hoping for the best with this picture, but it simply exists as Oscar bait. While the film starts strong, it isn't consistent. Neither the drama, nor the comedy are authentic. The film is incredibly busy with a bunch of characters and several sub-plots, and it simply comes across as being a huge mess. There are numerous twists and turns, yet none of them are particularly shocking or compelling. I didn't ever find myself caring for these characters, or their problems. Fortunately, the dinner scene manages to stick out in the best way possible. Despite the fact that it still contains a screaming match, the dialogue is much stronger. Meryl Streep delivers yet another award-worthy performance in the role of Violet. However, Julia Roberts is miscast, as she simply doesn't have the dynamics to compete with Streep. August: Osage County is as dysfunctional as the family it portrays. If you're a huge Meryl Streep fan, it might be worth a rental at some point. Otherwise, I advise that you pass on this one. Skip it.

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