Saturday, January 18, 2014

August: Osage County

The movie, August: Osage County, is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name by Tracy Letts. My wife and I saw the movie on a cold, foggy, and generally bleak Saturday afternoon in the Tri-Cities, Washington. The weather was a fitting backdrop for the movie, although a tornado laying waste to the area, and the movie theater burning to the ground would have been even more fitting.

August: Osage County chronicles a few days in the life of the Weston Family of Osage County, Oklahoma. Beverly Weston is married to Violet by whom he has three daughters, Barbara, the oldest, Ivy, the unmarried middle daughter, and Karen, the airhead youngest daughter, who is focused entirely on "being happy." Ain’t gonna happen, folks. No one in this family is ever going to be happy, and no one in the movie theater is going to leave it happy, unless they leave early, really, really early. I have to admit there were a few laughs in the audience during the showing; the kind you hear when an unexpected crude joke is told at the church social.

Violet is dying of mouth cancer, probably the result of her foul language and vicious attacks on her husband, her daughters, and anyone unfortunate enough to be in earshot. Yes, she’s led a hard life, but her intent seems to be to inflict as much punishment on her family as possible before her hard life comes to its inevitable and well-deserved end.

A reviewer called this drama a “scintillating criticism of the modern American family.” Whose modern American family are we talking about here -- Susan Powell’s? This family, like the Powells, is an anomaly; an outlier on the very end of the diving board over the empty pool. Tracy Letts has pulled out all the stops in establishing the backstory for his play/movie (based in part on his own family experience) in order to create the dysfunctional relationships and toxic exchanges that occur in the few days that we’re “privileged” to witness.

The family has gathered to determine the fate of the missing father, Beverly. My thought was that he certainly knew the story better than the theater audience and had decided to go fishing for the duration of the movie. Well, sort of.

I don’t want to spoil the suspense for you, so I end my review on this one positive note; the performances by Meryl Streep, as Violet, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis, as the daughters, and the rest of the cast are uniformly outstanding. Streep’s performance is perhaps her best ever, and that’s saying a lot. She inhabits the character of Violet Weston as if she herself had been possessed by the demon of this sick, awful, bitter, ugly, addicted, harridan. I can’t imagine the emotional toll playing this character took on Streep. Streep admits in an interview that portraying Violet Weston in August: Osage County, wasn’t her “most joyous experience” in acting. No kidding!

Well, it wasn’t my most joyous experience as a viewer either, but damn, it was an experience!


  1. My primary criterion on seeing a movie is: I want to feel better for having seen the movie than I felt before I sat down in the theater. I don't think I want to see this. I've seen enough dysfunctional families up close and personal and just don't think I'd find them entertaining. Especially this one.

    Thanks for a well written review!

  2. Interesting irrelevant fact; Tracy Letts plays the new director of the CIA, Andrew Lockhart, in the TV series, Homeland.


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