Usually if you have Meryl Streep in a film, there is little screen or screenplay space that any other actor can command. But when you throw in Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Julianne Nicholson and Ewan McGregor then the screen will probably be on fire all the time, right?
In this case all credit must go to the brilliant play (of the same name) on which the film is based.
August: Osage County is one of the most authentically stunning (mid-western) stories that I have come across. It is sharp, with dollops of dark humour, family intrigue and at the heart of it, a window into the human condition.
I would say that this can be any family’s story, and it really can be, but what is amazing about it is the revelatory character of it seen through the eyes of this mid-western American family that sprung from Osage County, Oklahoma.
Violet Weston (Meryl Streep) plays this woman, who suffers from mouth cancer, is addicted to the multiple pills she takes and haunted by unresolved demons from her past. With a sharp tongue, consistent mood swings and slowly growing paranoia, she pushes her husband Beverly, (Sam Shepard) a famous poet, to run away from home and commit suicide by drowning himself.
Before he dies he hires Johanna (Misty Upham) a Native American woman to take care of her. Johanna serves as the sense of sanity that prevails in the Weston house, while everything around is falling apart. Other than the tokenism attached to her character, Johanna is the only sane one we can find in the Weston household.
The family gather around for Beverly’s funeral and the skeletons begin to start fall out from everywhere.
Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) comes in with her husband Charlie (played with restraint by the brilliant Chris Cooper) and is this boisterous, verbally abusive woman. She comes into her sister’s home, opens all the curtains and windows wanting to let some light in, as Violet and Beverly kept all the windows screened up, with no light allowed to come through (very symbolic of their state of mind). Mattie Fae for her part leaves no opportunity to beraid her son by calling him names and constantly putting him down. The son (Little Charlie who shows up later in the narrative, played by Benedict Cumberbatch) is a timid fellow, who has recently found the love of his life and is coming to his own.
Violet’s three daughters: Barbara (Julia Roberts) Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) each interact differently with their mother. While Ivy did not abandon her parents and stayed, receives affection of and on for her sacrifice, she is constantly made to feel that she could have done nothing better with her life. More so she could never measure up to her older, more dynamic sister Barbara, who did move away; while Barbara is constantly blamed for having moved away and abandoned her family. Violet particularly turns on the guilt after Beverly’s death and how Barbara hurt her father beyond repair by moving away, for he loved her the most.
Barbara is caught in the whirlpool of a troubled marriage (Ewan McGregor as her husband Bill maybe in the shadows, yet is competent as someone who feels worn out after years and years of marriage) and allows the guilt of having left home to make her question if it was her turn to stay back and care for her ailing mother. She even momentarily tries and lives out that reality, only to realize that her own limitations won’t allow her to do that.
The theme of abandonment plays out through multiple things in the movie. In addition to the blame that Violet places on Barbara’s shoulders, there is this expectation that Ivy would stayput and never leave. Even when the third sister Karen comes in parading a thrice divorced boy-friend and their impending honeymoon in Belize, there is no real expectation place on her to take care of the mother. Her make believe life is judged for it being such.
While the lives and emotions of the mother and her daughter intermingle and clash, both at the same time, you see Violet slowly confronting her loneliness, with the loss of her husband and how that is expressed through her bitter and malicious banter with her daughters. Meryl Streep effortlessly plays the matriarch and the abandoned old, sick woman, who must find comfort in the arms of her Native American house help, for her own want nothing to do with her.
The intrigue of the narrative is capped when Ivy finds out why her blossoming relationship with Little Charlie must be nipped in the bud.
August: Osage County allows you to feel it’s heat, its physical and emotional heat as these characters struggle with the burning mid-western autumn and fire of their demons from within. The story is so intrinsically human and so contemporary to our reality about relationships (familial and romantic), makes for a compelling and incomparable audience experience.
image source: awardsdaily.com