August: Osage County review

John Wells
Meryl Streep
Julia Roberts
Chris Cooper
Ewan McGregor
Juliette Lewis
Julianne Nicholson
Rated: R

This movie had more family drama than five Jerry Springer episodes.

“August: Osage County” follows a family living in rural Oklahoma that isn’t on the best terms with each other. After a tragedy occurs, the family gathers at the home of now widow Violet Weston (Streep). Violet’s three daughters, which includes Barbara (Roberts), Ivy (Nicholson) and Karen (Lewis) all arrive bringing their own problems, as do other family members.

Over the next few days that pass by in the film’s runtime, multiple fights and arguments break out and light is shed on various secrets that all of the family members hold. In simple terms, chaos ensues.

“Osage County” is based on a play and it shows. Many of the film’s scenes seem like they were more fit for the stage rather than the screen. The format seemed to hurt the story telling a bit since so many scenes were played up for drama instead of a steady build-up where the boiling point is reached.

Similar films that featured dysfunctional situations that included that so called dramatic boiling point include “Carnage” and “It’s a Disaster.” Both films handled the build-up much better. Instead of a steady build-up, there is just so much drama all over the place. It’s so constant that it becomes rather exhausting and makes the movie feel longer than it is.

The biggest flaw in “Osage County,” though, is the way the characters are handled. It is apparent that nearly all of the characters are under heavy emotional distress and some may even need therapy to get over the various problems. It’s all very tragic under the surface. However, the film never gets too far under that surface because the characters are written in a way that seem to be tapping into dramatics too heavily.

The characters all feel so over-the-top, where it gets to the point of being rather cartoonish. Instead of being able to absorb the tragedy and really get an understanding of these characters, the movie puts them in too many moments where they are just outlandish. It doesn’t allow a person to really get to know, or even want to get to know the characters and I ended up not liking anyone in the movie, not even in the “love to hate” sort of way.

Another problem is how much of the film is the comedy and drama didn’t balance out the way they should. Earlier this year, the movie “Nebraska” was released and really explored family drama through humor. “Osage County” tries the same thing but just doesn’t pull it off. This could once again be coming from the play aspects, though, as the stage demands more dialogue to be dramatic rather than conversational.

In terms of acting, the cast, to be fair, really do try their hardest to make the dialogue work. The best performance in the movie is surprisingly not Streep, for once, but actually Roberts. Streep is still good but chews a little bit too much scenery. Chris Cooper and Margo Martindale also are strong points of the film.
Ewan McGregor, though, didn’t give his best performance ever and Benedict Cumberbatch seemed like wasted talent. Abigail Breslin was also in the movie but was written as a rather simple teenage character.

“Agust: Osage County” features a lot of veteran actors and some good young talent as well. But, it’s not enough to fully save it. The movie didn’t balance its comedy and drama very well, it didn’t have a good build-up in terms of story structure which makes it a tiring experience and the characters just feel too over-the-top to be taken seriously which leads to the tragedy not being fully felt by the audience. The film can be seen for the performances, but that’s about all. High 2 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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