The later part of the year always means the release of prestige, Oscar worthy movies. Which means Oscar bait. Usually, Oscar bait is over earnest, over sentimental, over the top syrup. Bur every now and again, there’s Oscar bait that subverts all that stuff and uses its prestige cast, hoity toity theatre origins and Oscar trappings to make something really affecting that hits pretty hard, like August: Osage County.
Sam Shepard is Beverly Weston, patriarch of the Weston family. Breaking the fourth wall, he opens the movie letting us know that he’s an alcoholic and that his wife Violet (Meryl Streep) is a pill head, using cancer to justify her addiction. Beverly hires a live in nurse to help look after his wife, then disappears. Violet calls her sister and brother in law (Margo Martindale and Chris Copper) for support, as well has her eldest daughter, Julia Roberts’ Barbara.
Not long after, Beverly is found dead on his boat from an apparent suicide and the rest of the Westons converge on Violet’s house for the funeral and a volatile reunion in the midst of an Oklahoma heat wave. The three Weston daughters are rounded out by introverted old made Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Juliette Lewis as the youngest and flightiest, Karen.
Add to that Ewan McGregor as Barbara’s estranged husband, Abigail Breslin as their daughter, Dermot Mulroney as Karen’s three times divorced, Ferrari driving fiancé and Benedict Cumberbatch as their shy, put down cousin, Little Charles. This is a massive ensemble of A-list stars, all at the absolute top of their game.
Two hours of horrible people being horribly horrible to each other might not sound like a great way to spend your time, but somehow August: Osage County makes it work. And while everyone does an amazing job, Streep and Roberts are the standouts. It was a little jarring at first to see them play such hostile, low class women, but the more they sink their teeth into it, the more entertaining they become.
August: Osage County also does an amazing job of making you feel the stifling heat. The oven like feeling of Violet’s house, the searingly blurred horizon of the endless Oklahoma plains. The sweat almost soaks through the screen. It also helped that Melbourne was going through it’s own heatwave, meaning it was 40°C (104°F) in my lounge room while I watched this movie. So I could literally feel what they were going through weather wise. It’s the kind of heat that almost justifies every act of assholery committed by every character. And these people are all absolute assholes.
This movie is rough going. It’s really well made, the performances are top notch all round and the story is compelling, but t’s not a feel good movie that will leave you with a smile on your face. It’s brutal and doesn’t hold back on letting these characters indulge in all of their worst tendencies. I felt sorry for a couple of them, but I didn’t like a single one. August: Osage County is the kind of movie I’ll definitely recommend to others, but I never want to see it again. Ever.