August: Osage County
Over the top County
John Wells’ August: Osage County is adapted from a stage play, which explains why every character obscenely overreacts to every minor event that happens, but does not explain why anyone thought it was a good idea to adapt the exhausting story onto the flat screen. A lot of good actors are involved here, prominently Academy Award darling Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, but no matter how much they scream and flail, they can’t stop the story from being boring to the point of suffocation. The film provides no evidence as to why we in the audience should devote a calorie of energy to caring about these characters.
Streep’s character Violet Weston has mouth cancer, and takes out her aggression on her three daughters and their spouses, and especially her husband Beverly (Sam Shephard), who promptly commits suicide. Her daughters Barbara, Ivy, and Karen (Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis) arrive in the unnaturally hot Osage County for the funeral with their dysfunctional significant others in tow. At one fateful dinner, Violet goes around the table insulting her descendants’ life choices one by one in a scene that must take up a quarter of the entire movie, and after that, everyone hates each other.
The ensemble cast is more than good, including other names such as Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Abigail Breslin. But they were given nothing to do other than become angry at each other, usually for insignificant reasons, or suddenly be sad in scenes when writer Tracy Letts decided she should awkwardly try to make these characters sympathetic. It is difficult for the audience to enjoy a performance, no matter how well acted, if the characters themselves are given no redeemable qualities to make them at all identifiable. This, paired with the cast’s hugely intense performances, makes the film exhausting to watch. The greatest emotional satisfaction comes when the screen finally goes blank, for all the wrong reasons.
August is a mess of actors putting too much energy into a script that already collapsed under its own self-indulgent weight. There’s no reason for a story this plain to propel itself for a full two hours without giving the audience a chance to breathe. It’s a film that centers completely on the acting to distract from the dullness of everything else, and rather than entertain, it exhausts. Even though the acting is arguably good, even great, there isn’t much else to keep the film from breaking down.