By Megan Bianco
Each awards season there’s one film that just looks like it was made to be considered for the Oscars. Someone’s crying, someone’s dying, it’s set in the past, there’s a big, sweeping orchestral score, etc. Usually an extravagant period piece or emotionally draining drama.
Those who saw the trailers of the Fall movie releases might have guessed “The Butler” and “August: Osage County” as the last year’s Oscar bait. “The Butler“ managed to get snubbed by the end the season, but “Osage County” actually manages to have a few tricks up its sleeves by the final act. San Diego locals now have a second chance to view the family drama as it arrives on DVD this week.
When the father of the Weston family, Beverly (Sam Shepard) dies, his daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) return to Osage County, OK, for the funeral and to console their erratic and sickly mother, Violet (Meryl Streep). Other relatives who tag along are Violet’s flamboyant sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) and her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and their slow son Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch); Barbara’s soon to be ex-husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and their daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin); as well as Karen’s big-shot Miami fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney).
“August: Osage County” is produced by the Weinstein Co., which has a great track record at the Oscars. “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), “Chicago” (2002), “The Aviator” (2004) and “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) to name a few of the most famous ones. For whatever reason, “Osage County” didn’t get as much notice as some of its competition. It could be because, unlike the previous winners, John Wells’ adaptation of Tracy Letts’ hit stage play is a little uninspired and dull the first hour of its runtime. Letts, famous for his sardonically dark and twisted themes such as seen with “Bug” (2006) and “Killer Joe” (2011), seems to have let his latest adaptation go a little too Hollywood. This time he has big-time producers like the Weinsteins who love a happy ending rather than an indie production from director William Friedkin.
The film’s big star and token nominee for best actress, Streep, is playing one mean and self-centered old woman who doesn’t hold back on her contempt for her family. We should feel about as much empathy for her as we do Nurse Ratched, but the problem is Streep is so showy and animated in the part that it takes audiences out of the picture. Her on-screen daughters on the other hand, are a revelation. Roberts particularly, who gives us the best acting of her career as Barbara, the oldest sister who just wants to break away from Osage for good. Nicholson and Lewis break audiences’ hearts as the two younger sisters who just want someone to love them and are finding it in the wrong arms.
Though the first and second acts of the film drag, by the time we’ve reached the third act with the Weston family, the wheels start rolling and all hell breaks loose. Roberts nails it and a scene between Streep, Roberts and Nicholson almost make up for the rest of the movie. Streep and Roberts both received a lot of hype for their performances in “August: Osage County,” and if there’s anything wrong with that, it’s because Roberts didn’t receive all of it.
Megan Bianco is an Orange County-based movie reviewer and recent graduate of California State University Northridge.