Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County takes place in Oklahoma, “plains country” as Julia Roberts’ character Barbara so fervently points out. However, the Weston family and their troubles could be easily be found in any part of the country. In fact, you may find a trace or two of people you know in the dysfunctional ensemble of brilliantly written, relatable characters.
The cast is unsurprisingly incredible. Meryl Streep portrays perfection as Violet, the pill-popping, aggrieved matriarch. In her time of need, she calls for her daughters: the sturdy eldest daughter Barbara (played magnificently by Roberts), the flighty youngest daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis), and shrinking Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), the middle daughter who had been by Violet’s side all along. Each woman brings her own complicated story into the mix as emotions reach their peak.
Yet every voice in the cast is a strong one. Sam Shepard plays Violet’s alcoholic husband, the former poet Beverly Weston. Chris Cooper gives an outstanding performance as Charlie Aiken, Violet’s brother-in-law, as does Benedict Cumberbatch in the role of Charlie’s beloved, but bewildered son “Little” Charles. Even the less forceful characters seep into your bones to rattle them. Dermot Mulroney talentedly takes quite the hit as Karen’s new fiance. Abigail Breslin proves to be growing well into her acting chops as the 14-year-old girl watching the crumbling relationship of her mother Barbara and father Bill, played excellently by Ewan McGregor. The steady sobriety of Violet’s live-in housekeeper Johnna (Misty Upham) provides the Westons with some inkling of stalwart stability. Each piece of the tumultuous family puzzle is interesting and fierce.
Too little has been said in praise of Julianne Nicholson as Ivy, the timid middle daughter whose eyes and trembling chin tell an even darker story than we see Violet playing out before us, and especially of Margo Martindale. Martindale is positively brilliant in her effortless portrayal of Violet’s vivacious sister Mattie Fae. While the Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress may rightly go to Julia Roberts, it would be frustrating to see Martindale overlooked in this well-developed, meaty role.
Streep will certainly gain a nod for Best Actress, and I highly suspect we will see a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. SAG nominations have already been announced for Streep and Roberts, along with the much-deserved nomination for Best Ensemble Cast.
“Life is very long.” – T.S. Elliot.
Beverly Weston settles on this quote at the beginning of the film. But whether it grows long or is cut short, August shows us that at least our family will make life interesting. I highly recommend catching the dysfunctional Westons as they journey through a tumultuous few days on the big screen. You will laugh hard, think deep, and maybe find a piece of your own family within.