In the battle of Meryl vs Julia, who will chew more scenery? August: Osage County pits them against each other as the drug addicted Mom versus the only person in her large extended family capable of taking her on. Based on a stage play of the same name, it is a star-studded dramedy about what must be the most dysfunctional family in the state of Oklahoma all coming together after a tragedy. None of them want to be there, and I started to feel the same way, but stuck with it because it’s one of those acting slugfests you just have to see through.
The Weston family is comprised of three sisters, Barbara (Julia Roberts), Karen (Juliette Lewis), and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), a drug addicted mother Violet (Meryl Streep) and a drunken poet father (Sam Shepard), whose demise brings them and their cousins (Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch and Margo Martindale) together. Also present are Barbara’s semi-estranged husband Bill (Ewan McGregor), and her 14-year-old daughter (Abigail Breslin), and Karen’s sleezy fiancé (Dermot Mulroney). A large part of the film takes place around a dinner table with Mom dishing out secrets and vitriol in enormous portions and the family attempting to pretend it isn’t hitting the mark. There are also threads that touch on the other sisters, particularly Ivy’s love for her cousin Little Charles, but ultimately the draw here is the battle of the strong women, Barbara slugging it out with Violet.
The original Pulitzer Prize winning play was four hours long and you can feel the cuts — at least I can imagine the rest of the characters being more developed than they are here and the plot feeling less melodramatic. The dialogue has an artificial theatricality that works beautifully on stage, but here feels false. And the fact that the whole thing is peopled by this A-list cast kind of works against it, too. You want them to all have parts equal to their talents, but except for Streep and Roberts and to some extent Margo Martindale, most of them seem wasted. It’s one of those films you go to because it’s Oscar bait. I’d say wait for it to come to Netflix. Then you can get up when Meryl is spewing her hate at Julia and get yourself a nice glass of wine or a snack. You’ll come back and she’ll still be venting.