August: Osage County

august osage countyWell, this one’s a bit of a downer, it’s very well done, but damn, it’s a downer… Based on the play by Tracy Letts (who also wrote the screenplay), August: Osage County features the story of a family broken, very broken, mostly by their own devices and attitudes. Plagued by dreary, depressing attitudes, drug abuse, cancer, suicide, incest and a lot of denial, the whole story feels doomed and at times is hard to watch as there’s very little joy found anywhere in here. Even during the few moments of positivity in the film they become quickly overshadowed by the dour outlooks of the main characters…

This is the kind of film I’ll only watch once and only out of curiosity and wanting to watch the actors do their thing. Rightly so too as the actors are great. The screenplay is well-written for what it is, the dialog seems true to the characters and is compelling (which is hard to pull off in a drama sometimes). The problem is that the attitudes of the main characters are so hopeless and depressing that even when some light is offered from the less-depressing characters, it just doesn’t cut through the dark of the leads with the exception of an outburst from Chris Cooper’s character towards his wife in the film. Meryl Streep’s character has just lost her husband to a suspected suicide, she’s battling cancer herself and her 3 daughters are a complete mess too. Julia Roberts is the oldest daughter, going through a divorce and dealing with a teenage daughter that doesn’t like her. Juliette Lewis is the youngest of the 3 and is engaged to a materialistic man who is definitely going to cheat on her if he isn’t already (he even hits on her 14 year old niece) and the middle daughter just found out that she’s involved in a incestuous relationship with a brother most of the family thought was a cousin. Wow.

While the story sounds dramatic and interesting (and it is), the delivery is hard to get through and if you’re looking for relief at the end of film, you’ll be sorely disappointed as noone seems to find redemption. I’m not sure why people write stories like this or what compels people to even watch a film that’s so entrenched in darkness and depression. That’s what I found this film to be, simply a character exercise exploring depression and hopelessness. John Wells directed and does a great job capturing the dire sentimentality that runs through the spine of the script.

The only quality that kept me wanting to finish watching the film was the actors. Streep is her usual tour-de-force and sets the bar high for everyone else to match. Luckily the cast is strong enough to match her intensity and authenticity. Julia Roberts is especially good and stands out on her own as one the more engaging, intense actors to watch which is impressive considering the lineup of talent here. The lineup includes Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Julianne Nicholson, Chris Cooper, Margo Martingale, Dermot Mulroney, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin, and Misty Upham.

Bottom line: if you appreciate films just for the acting or you’re ok with films that offer no redemption or happy ending, you may like this one.

reviewed by Sean McKnight