Grandma Violet is a vitriolic pill popper. Mom Barbara and dad Bill can’t get along. Aunt Karen is engaged to a pervert. And first cousins Ivy and Charles are in love with each other. The Westons of “August: Osage County” are not exactly a pleasant bunch, to say the least.
Over the course of the film there’s fighting, fighting, a suicide, fighting (complete with mother-daughter fisticuffs), a revelation of infidelity, fighting (featuring plate throwing this time) and… the end. Those looking for a feel-good movie won’t find it here, unless you count the feeling of relief that your own family isn’t as bad as the one you’ve just witnessed.
But that doesn’t mean “August: Osage County” is a bad film. Rather, it’s a fascinating character study of people not entirely likeable yet sympathetic nonetheless. The characters artfully crafted by screenwriter Tracy Letts are the raw and vulnerable products of their pasts.
On the surface Violet is a hateful witch, but it’s clear she was molded by her own sadistic mother on top of years of drug abuse. Though she’s cruel to her daughters, all she truly wants is to be close to them. However, her background prevents her from knowing how. As a result, her daughter Barbara is on the path to becoming just like her.
Bringing such layered characters to life requires masterful acting. At this point in her career Meryl Streep could easily coast on the weight of her iconic reputation. Yet her work in this movie proves she’s still one of the best, throwing caution to the wind in portraying messy, emotionally damaged Violet.
Julia Roberts as Barbara likewise transcends her “America’s Sweetheart” reputation to capture the bitterness of a woman trying, and failing, to avoid becoming her mother.
In fact, the acting is the real reason to see “August: Osage County.” The performers give an emotional tour de force, blending comedy and melancholy to create a realistic portrait of a majorly dysfunctional family. It’s a perfect movie for lovers of complex characters. And train wrecks.
Sean Quinn can be reached at email@example.com.