It’s a shame August: Osage County didn’t open nationally during the holiday season, when far-flung families gather and complications often follow. No matter how messed up you think your family is, the fictional one found in author Tracy Letts’ film adaptation of his Pulitzer Prize-winning play is probably going to make yours look pretty good by comparison. The family gathering depicted here comes not for the holidays but during a hot summer in Oklahoma after an unexpected death, which only heightens the simmering resentments and lingering conflicts. Family secrets, artfully revealed constitute the only plot points served up in August: Osage County. It’s all a bit overwrought and stagy, and the film’s theatrical origins are constantly on display via dense dialogue and static camera work. But Letts’ words make good on the promise of real insight into human experience while providing the substance for a series of riveting performances.
Letts and director John Wells (The Company Men) stack the deck with veteran actors at the peak of their game. Events revolve around the mean-spirited and drug-addicted matriarch Violet (Meryl Streep) and her three full-grown daughters (Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis, and Julianne Nicholson). Streep’s flamboyant performance departs from her usual style but is exactly what her character requires. Julia Roberts’ work is a welcome surprise as she aces the tough-as-nails eldest daughter Barbara, the only member of the family strong enough to stand up to Violet. The men take a back seat here, though Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Dermot Mulroney all deliver in relatively small but memorable roles. August: Osage County may be less than the sum of its parts, but it packs a powerful punch nonetheless.
August: Osage County starts today at the Canal Place and Elmwood Palace theaters.