There are films that tell stories and bring the actors’ characters along for the ride and then there are films that are vehicles for the actors themselves and it’s those actors who end up bringing the story along for the ride.
John Wells’ August: Osage County is the latter. A film from the second time director adapted from Tracy Letts’ popular stage play is a hugely over-dramatic actor vehicle meant to garner individual awards. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t enjoy the film. I don’t know if it was because there are too many performances here where you can tell the actors are trying to “out-act” each other or if it’s because the subject material just isn’t that interesting. Whatever the reason for me not enjoying the film, that has nothing to do with the tour-de-force performances the two lead actresses – Meryl Streep & Julia Roberts – put on.
The film, based around the life of Violet Weston (Streep) and how that life is falling apart following the suicide of her long time husband (Sam Shepard). The film takes place largely in the house the Weston’s grew up in on the plains of Oklahoma where the entire family gets together following the father’s death. The Weston family is probably the most dysfunctional family I’ve ever seen on film. What transpires through the 2 hours 10 minutes running time is a lot of yelling, crying, talking, and finding out that your cousins just may be your brothers and sisters. Your typical Oklahoma setting, I guess.
Julia Roberts’ return to prominence is on display here and she’s pretty magnificent as the eldest daughter trying her damnedest to maintain the family control battle, but losing the war. The other actors in the film – and there are a ton of stars here – pull up the slack made from the rest of the plot. Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper turn in especially great performances. Ewan McGregor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, and Abigail Breslin round out the rest of the cast.
John Wells doesn’t really have to do much directing with the star power going on in Osage County, other than maybe camera placement. It’s a heavy-handed affair but August: Osage County may be worth seeing for the star power alone, but be prepared to get slapped in the face with the most dramatic BS you’ve seen in quite some time.