‘You can choose your friends but not your family’ is one of the truest phrases made. While most have been fine, many household units have descended into warfare. The mix of personalities from larger families are bound to have several disagreements which August: Osage County explores. Based on Tracey Letts’ play, it portrays the behavioural absurdity most have to put up with in order to maintain the farcical facade of familial bliss.
After her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) commits suicide, cancer-stricken Violet (Meryl Streep) summons the family for his funeral. Among them are daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts) and Karen (Juliette Lewis). Bringing their significant others and other relatives, the stage is set for a reverential memorial. It soon turns into anything but, with old secrets surfacing. Untangling the personal web becomes an emotional chore for this very complex household.
It’s boringly repetitive to praise Meryl Streep for yet another amazing performance but it’s one she deserves. Her turn in August: Osage County is a revelation in studied bitterness. Decayed by the past and angry about the present, her existence is fuelled by her torment of her children. Whilst some ensemble dramas become lost as they focus on several characters, it works perfectly here. Each effectively contributes to a narrative examining the fabric of kinship and the sometimes agonising blood-bond families share.
Director John Wells pieces together the various strands with ease. He is assisted by some amazing cinematography, bringing Osage County to life in all its starkness. Its barren vistas mirror the barren affection the characters feel for each other. How their lives have become so wrapped in regret and despair is painful to see. August: Osage County isn’t completely morose, with plenty of natural humour rising from the absurd nature of their strange relationships.
August: Osage County is an excellent essay on the ties that bind. We all have a family whether we want to or not, with the film’s authenticity revealing much about the nature of genetics and how much we inherit from our forebears.
Reviewed by Patrick Moore
Rating out of 10: 9
August: Osage County opens 1 January 2014