Yesterday my wife and I did what we rarely do: see a movie in a theater. I was hoping for The Hobbit, but it was already gone from the first-run multiplex and not yet in the discount movie house. So we saw August: Osage County. The morning after, I still feel like I’ve been through an emotional wringer on this one.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s extremely well-acted. I saw that the two leads, Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts were Oscar-nominated for it. That seems right, though I have no points of reference on the work of other actors this past year.
Hollywood seems to spit out oodles of movies about dysfunctional families. In this one, the alcoholism and drug addiction are mostly out in the open. A funeral brings everybody home for a tense and bitter reunion. I was thinking there’s cruelty with a much harsher tone than, say, holiday fare like The Family Stone. The Oklahoma-raised Weston family in this movie: the women here have the knives out and sharpened. That’s where the award nominators have zeroed in. What can I say about this movie? There is absolutely no mercy.
August: Osage County is a grueling portrait of family at its very worst. One questions if one can ever escape the debts one has incurred to one’s parents. Meryl Streep’s matriarch pretty much rules the roost here with a knife that stabs, twists, extracts the organs and feeds them to the family for dinner. Her character justifies it by a sense of payback from her own abused childhood. At least one daughter seems to have gotten that formula right in her own life.
I noticed in my research last night the original wasn’t Hollywood, but an award-winning play. While the Oklahoma summer is scenic, I can see how this piece would work extremely well for the small stage. A local reviewer criticized the film for this, but that commentary was off-base. This isn’t a big-screen film, primarily. It’s a study in family, and be reassured: it could happen anywhere–next door if not under your own roof.
The exteriors are shot in green and yellow and gravelly and expansive. But this movie isn’t about big sky rural Oklahoma. Everything happens in the old family house, and the guests seemingly cannot wait to escape. A faint-hearted movie observer might feel the same.
The last scene, in which a truck drives off and the director has the mileage to Wichita, Salina, and Denver in the shot. Well, that’s just perfect. The only question is how many speeding tickets will we get on the way out.
Can I recommend this movie? On the acting chops, sure. There is not only anger, but subtlety from the whole cast. Not really a weak link in the bunch. If you’re sensitive about family today, go to something else. The viewer will need a really strong constitution for the bitter, merciless, f-bombed viewing.