If one is to appreciate anything about this adaptation of Tracey Letts Pulitzer Prize winning play, the immensely staggering performances carried out by the entire ensemble would be a great place to start. Thankfully however, this gloomy comedic-drama directed by John Wells has decidedly more to offer than the undeniable talents of its star-studded cast. Much like its source material, this take of “August: Osage County” is teeming with family turmoil, sly humour, and plenty of heart. That being said, this cinematic adaption isn’t without its own, personal charms. Besides, there’s something you get with film that just blows live theatre out of the water. Say, for example, the stunning, not to mention real, panoramic scenery displayed, or the intended demeanour of a well-thought-out, perfectly captured shot…but that’s just my opinion. Nonetheless, Wells’ “August: Osage County” pays great reverence to its source while effectively differentiating itself from it.
In Oklahoma, in August, Beverly (Shepard), a poet with a drinking problem, lives with his wife Violet (Streep), who suffers from oral cancer and is addicted to prescription drugs. They have three daughters, Barbara (Roberts), Karen (Juliette), and Ivy (Nicholson). Soon after hiring help to assist with the care of Violet, Beverly disappears. This brings the entire family, their significant others, and close relatives to the house. What ensues when this group is brought together is a chaotic melee, and none are exempt.
Wells faithful adaptation of “August: Osage County” officially launched its Oscar campaign this year at TIFF. And for the most part it was received with praise from its audiences. Granted, the tale’s natural combination of halfhearted self-loathing and perplexing family drama will come off as attention clamouring, even pathetic to some. Especially when the reward isn’t as grand or alluring. Ultimately, those not familiar with the play or those not affected by such issues will feel alienated. Therefore, the film won’t earn many new followers, but that was to be expected. What the film lacks in luring capability via story, reaction, and structure, it more than makes up for with a high-profile cast. And if the cast and their performances don’t drag you in, the tranquil, wondrous landscape alongside a hauntingly atmospheric score is sure to do the trick. However, all of “August: Osage County’s” endearing, upsetting, enthralling attributes aren’t enough to trump the immaculacy of the ensembles performances.
In a sense, “August: Osage County” is exactly what I’d expected and nothing more: darkly hilarious, melancholic, and impeccably performed. However in the same breath, sadly and ironically, my realized expectations still provided a bit of a letdown. Considering that when you’re collaborating a collection of illustrious, Oscar caliber actors, a director who certainly is no stranger to creating and capturing obscure family drama (Wells is the writer and director of possibly my favourite television program “Shameless”), and a story that’s highly relatable and has been proven to be a winner time and time again. The end result should be nothing short of scintillating. And although it surely shines blindingly on occasion, “August: Osage County” is more of a pulsating brightness. But do keep in mind that my preconceived notions about this film were still pretty steep. So even though it doesn’t knock you of your feet, it’ll definitely leave you teetering and stumbling around.
As eye-catching and captivating as “August: Osage County” is to all the cinematic senses. The cast and their performances is the film’s only true, unarguable strongpoint. Starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Abigail Breslin, and Julianne Nicholson. Wells’ A-list crowd definitely has the chops to tackle this emotional vast and mentally straining adventure. Ewan McGregor perfectly encapsulates the subtle strength of his character and intentionally falls to the backdrop. Dermot Mulroney does much of the same, except his portrayal deals a lot with frustrating and seducing the audience. Still, he can’t help but disappear alongside these acting heavyweights. Breslin is her usual quiet self. I don’t think I’ve seen a performance of her’s in which she utters more than 50 words. That being said, she does a great job absorbing the inward-dwelling habits of her character.
Without question, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep steal the show. Although I have to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Meryl Streep’s track record, for the majority at least. I don’t deny her talent and I feel she deserves the recognition she’s garnered thus far in her career, for the most part. In all honesty however, her performance in “August Osage County” is only the second time I’ve been blown away by one of her portrayals, the first being her performance in “Adaptation”. Somehow, Streep completely dissolves into her character, both mentally and physically. She pulls off the accent, appearance, cold-blooded personality, and inevitable vulnerability incredibly. As for Roberts, she valiantly struts alongside Streep’s masterful performance with confidence and control. She might not disappear into the role as physically well as Streep does, but she does offer up more of a visceral performance. She portrays a stoic, ticking time-bomb astoundingly. I have high expectations that both will earn an Oscar nomination come award season.
The very moment “August: Osage County” begins, you’re hit with the raspy, calming voice of Sam Shepard. Being the fictional husband to Streep’s character is no easy task, but Shepard does a phenomenal job exuding the patience, understanding, and heart. Benedict Cumberbatch, despite being sparsely used, amazingly bursts with such love, earnestness, and truth. The scene in which Cumberbatch’s character plays an original composition on a small, run-down keyboard to Julianne Nicholson’s character is heart-achingly effective and undeniably enchanting. Speaking of Nicholson, she does a fantastic job with Juliette Lewis and the aforementioned Julia Roberts completing this trio of sisters who have to deal with their mean-spirited, yet oddly nurturing mother. Chris Cooper continues to astound me with his kind, compassionate performance here. I found myself wishing he was my biological Father again and again.
Disheartening, elemental, and decidedly truthful. “August: Osage County” is directed with a firm, honest hand and performed with the utmost talent and accuracy. If anything, the cast alone is worth the price of admission.
August: Osage County: 8.5 out of 10.