"Nobody slips anything by me," says Violet, the foul-mouthed, vindictive and high-as-a-kite central character in August: Osage County. "I know what's what." The scary thing is that she's right. Always.
An adaptation of Tracy Letts' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County is largely set in an Oklahoma house where three daughters (Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis) have returned to be with their difficult mother, Violet (Meryl Streep), as they await news of their father (Sam Shepard), who has disappeared.
Various other relatives (played by an all-star cast that includes Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ewan McGregor Abigail Breslin and Dermot Mulroney) pop in and out, usually pushed away by Vi's withering insults. But the drama hinges on the sisters and the question of whether they will make it out of the house with any shred of hope left alive.
The play, which repurposes elements of Long Day's Journey Into Night, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, probably was overrated and, wisely, John Wells' film doesn't treat it as if it's sacrosanct, even though Letts also wrote the screenplay. About an hour has been cut, the ending has been tinkered with to make it less bleak and the actors have been encouraged to accent the humor in their profanity-laden diatribes.
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Occasionally, this Osage County feels stagebound — McGregor, as Roberts' estranged husband, has some especially speechy dialogue — but the movie is looser and more real than the play, and the big-name actors are well-cast.
Roberts lays into her character's many confrontations with her mother, especially a painfully funny (and unprintable) argument about catfish. As Vi's brother-in-law, the kindest member of the family, Chris Cooper brings earthy humanity to the verbal fisticuffs. Lewis's dippy humor is a smart contrast to the fireworks around her.
And you probably don't need me to tell you that Streep delivers a performance of piercing intelligence. In her hands, Vi is a lot of fun to watch even though it's clear that, as she opens one raw wound after another, she'd be no fun to be around.
In general, that's the appeal of August: Osage County.
It's not an especially insightful or complex work, and the movie is marred by an overdone score from the usually reliable Gustavo Santaolalla, but August: Osage County offers the rare and pleasing spectacle of lots of fine actors chewing on meaty, entertaining roles.
'August: Osage County'
R for language including sexual references, and for drug material. Weinstein Co. 2:05. Fayette Mall.