Thursday, 27 February 2014

August: Osage County

Once again, the major critics and I do not agree. They largely panned August: Osage County, noting primarily the exhausting, nuance-sacrificing melodrama involving too many characters whom we don’t care about. I understand these comments and agree that the film has numerous flaws. But I would argue that the film’s strengths far outweigh those flaws and that if you come in knowing that you are watching a two-hour film version of a three-hour play, August: Osage County is a thoroughly satisfying experience.

It is not a happy experience, to be sure, and there is very little by way of redemption, but it is nowhere near as dark as something like Happiness. Because the film is based on a play, it is full of intelligent dialogue, which I can never get enough of. True, the dialogue is often very loud and lacking in nuance, and some scenes fall flat. But for every scene that falls flat, there are three scenes featuring incredible acting and thought-provoking dialogue (some of it is even very funny).

August: Osage County tells the story of a very dysfunctional family, overseen by Violet Weston (played marvellously by Meryl Streep), whose husband commits suicide at the beginning of the film. Violet is a prescription-drug addict whose doctor acknowledges that the drugs may have caused some cognitive impairment. Sometimes she’s sharp, other times she is flying high, but always she says whatever is on her mind. Violet and her sister, Mattie Fae, had a traumatic childhood which no doubt contributed to their overbearing and spiteful personalities. Violet has three daughters, who suffer from their own problems, no doubt partially as the result of poor parenting. All of these people and their spouses, children and boyfriends show up for the funeral and things start to get ugly, with not a few secrets revealed along the way.

Despite Streep’s dominance, August: Osage County is an ensemble film, with a great cast at the top of their form (including Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Sam Shepard, Julianne Nicholson and Benedict Cumberbatch, among others). Streep and Roberts were nominated for Academy Awards. They deserve the nominations but my previous votes were not altered by having watched this film.

I won’t argue that August: Osage County (which is directed by John Wells) is the most profound and moving film about family dynamics that I have ever seen. I suspect the play (written by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay) is better in that regard and I hope I have a chance to see it sometime. But the film offers a very good score and excellent cinematography, which a play can't do. For me, this film is far more interesting and entertaining than The Lego Movie, which the critics liked so much more. August: Osage County gets a solid ***+. My mug is up.

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