Movie Reviews

‘August: Osage County’: Family friction at its finest

By Anjali RaguramanMovies - 23 January 2014 12:00 AM

‘August: Osage County’: Family friction at its finest

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Rating: 4 / 5

Family relationships are never black and white. While the trailer for this film suggests that it is light and humourous, it is more "depressing family drama" than "joyful family reunion" as a feuding family crumbles under the weight of their unresolved issues.

Based on a play by Tracy Letts, who is also screenwriter here, the film is set in the sleepy Oklahoma district of Osage county during a sweltering August.

After one-time famous poet Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard) goes missing, family members return home to be with his wife, the pill-popping cancer patient Violet (Meryl Streep).

The patriach's death and the reunion serve as catalysts causing festering relationships to flare among the characters, like a bad case of eczema where you scratch till it bleeds.

The cracks in the relationships between mother and daughters, husband and wife, fiancees and new lovers, widen ever so slowly through the film until they become a big gaping hole.

There are many unnerving dialogues dealing with the uncomfortable and heartbreaking deterioration of relationships. And the climax is an incredibly tetchy post-funeral dinner, where Violet gets harsh on daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) and she retaliates violently.


From Streep to Roberts, Benedict Cumberbatch to Ewan McGregor, the film offers up pedigree acting to keep you enthralled. Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale round off the impressive cast. 

It goes without saying that Streep is the tour de force in the film, and you will not be able to take your eyes off the vile and self-serving matriarch she plays.

Roberts holds her own as well playing the bitter and angry eldest daughter trying to make sense of all the mess in her life, and the ugly secrets left behind by her father.

Meryl Streep (right) and Julia Roberts deliver Oscar-worthy performances

Other than the great female lead performances (both Streep and Roberts garnered Oscar nominations), the other two sisters played by Juliette Lewis (‘Natural Born Killers’) and Julianne Nicholson (TV series ‘Boardwalk Empire’) are quietly charming and balance out the histrionics.

Though his role is small, Cumberbatch still has you rooting for his character, a self-loathing first cousin with the annoying nickname "Little Charles".

This film, a riveting character study of all its players, weaved together by director John Wells, executive producer on TV drama series such as ‘E.R.’ and ‘The West Wing’. 

The film sets are hardly noteworthy, as scenes are rarely set beyond the fenced compound of the sprawling Weston household, serving to keep the spotlight on the compelling human drama. Still, you can’t help but feel it would have all played out better on stage, like its Pulitzer prize-winning source material.

'August: Osage County' opens in cinemas 23 January 2014