August: Osage County

Truth tellers: every family has one. They say mean shit and then hide behind its being “the truth” as if no harm ever came from telling the truth. But that’s not the truth. The truth is that the truth can be painful, can be private, and can be left unsaid. And as humans with emotional intelligence and self-control, we have no excuse not to hold back. My grandmother is a truth-teller, often leaving hurt feelings in the wake of her “plain-spokenness”.  I don’t always understand what has kept my grandparents together for 66 years (well, okay, probably Catholicism, and good old fashioned not believe in divorce), but my grandmother is not a pill-popper and my grandfather is not a suicidal alcoholic. So there’s that.

When Bev (Sam Shepard) goes missing, his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) rallies the troops. Daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is already there, always there, but it’s favoured daughter Barb (Julia Roberts) who really matters, who will make everything better when she arrives.

Favourites: every family has these too. Maybe it’s the one who reminds you most of yourself, or maybe the complete opposite. And maybe it changes over time, favouring the best achiever, and then the one who produces the most grandchildren, and then favouring the one who sticks closest to home. There isn’t always a rhyme or reason but we do seem to agree that we must never, ever admit it out loud. But your kids know, just the same as you knew it of your parents. It’s the way of life. Most people are just pretty good at being diplomatic about it.

Violet’s not. Violet’s pretty nasty about it. Ivy is the good one, but Barb is the favourite. Karen (Juliette Lewis) doesn’t really even figure, but it’s mostly nice when she shows up. And she does show up eventually, because her father’s bloated body is fished out of the river and now it’s not his disappearance they’re dealing with, it’s his death. The dynamic between the sisters is fragile, and with Violet twisted with grief and pills, she lets her truth flag fly. And you know how gets caught in the crossfire? Everyone.

The passing on of pain: Violet and her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) were abused by their mother. Violet is so self-righteous about her own pain that she can’t fathom the pain she causes others, or she doesn’t think it rates. Violet is cruel to her daughters, and Mattie Fae can’t seem to stand her son Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). That’s the way abuse works, it trickles down the generations. Is Barb messing up her own daughter, Jean (Abigail Breslin)? She’s suffering too.

Family secrets: What’s a family without its secrets? Maybe secrets are the cement that hold us all together. Only Ivy and Charles know they’re in love, despite being cousins. Only Mattie Fae knows that Ivy and Charles aren’t cousins, they’re siblings. Only Barb and her husband (Ewan McGregor) know they’re separated. Only the devoted nursemaid knows what Karen’t fiance is trying to do with Barb’s young daughter. And only Violet knows that Bev’s death was actually a suicide.

You’ve got to have nerves of steel to get through August: Osage County. The family drama is raw as fuck. But Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts put in incredibly strong performances amid a top-notch cast that never puts so much as a baby toe wrong. It’s note perfect, it’s just not pretty. A lifetime of pain is more poisonous than all the pills in the world. This film, based on a brilliant play by Tracy Letts, is a force.

 

 

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17 thoughts on “August: Osage County

  1. popculturethoughts83

    Great review, very insightful. I loved this movie too – I have to say I was also blown away by Juliette Lewis, she’s so sincere in all her performances. Towards the end in this one, you can see how deep her denial runs, and how she’s bargaining with herself to make it ok to stay with her husband. Interesting stuff.

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  2. Katrina Morrison

    Your review is very insightful and honest. The first time I saw this, I hated it. I guess it was a little too truthful for me. Since, that first time, I have watched it several times. Each time I watch it, I see or hear something I didn’t catch before. Now, I appreciate much more than I did that first time. It is more bitter than sweet; but, it promises hope and assures survival for most.

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  3. Caz

    I love this film, such an incredible cast led by amazing performances from Streep and Roberts. “Just eat the fish, bitch” brilliant scene! I think the scary thing about this film is that it will feel very real in terms of family dynamics. I actually feel it was very under appreciated on its release.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, I thought so too. I understand it’s very talky and very raw, and I guess most people are looking for explosions and car chases. But the whole cast is exceptional. It really sticks with you.

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      1. Caz

        Oh it really does! I think anything based on a play struggles now due to it being dialogue heavy thought the same about Fences, I love them thoughts love seeing plays at the theatre.

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  4. Sarca

    I tried getting through this one, but couldn’t manage it. It really is raw, and does take a lot of patience. The acting is superb, I just couldn’t stand Meryl Streep’s character.

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  5. Dell on Movies (@w_ott3)

    This is a weird one for me. All of the performances are fantastic, as you say, but I thought it never quite came together. It felt like a bunch of great scenes with actors giving it their Oscar-baiting best, but not really a cohesive whole.

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  6. Liz A.

    Yeah, okay, this is a skip. I don’t get that sort of family dynamic, and I don’t want to watch it. Never mind how good the performances are.

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  7. fernandorafael

    Very interesting perpective on what I thought was an underrated film. Huge fan of Tracy Letts dark writing and the cast, I agree, is perfect. Not an easy one to watch, definitely, but some of the best movies aren’t.

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