August: Osage County (2013), A Beautiful Ensemble Film. Movie Review

by Mira

Some plays make great movies. I believe this is one of them, because it’s both powerful and understated, and the emotional release is not pumped up for cheap effect. Few spoilers.

With a great ensemble cast (Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Dermon Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Sam Shepard, Misty Upham), and a script by Tracy Letts based on her Pulitzer Prize-winning play, August: Osage County (2013), this film, directed by John Wells, got movie critics talking. Some think the script is not that great, and that it’s all about the acting. Others say it would have worked better as a play. Some see no depth, while others see powerful moments. Some see more drama; others, more comedy. Some complain there’s not much to take home after watching for two hours a dysfunctional family come apart, while others think the portrayal of this family is nothing short of searing and vouch that they were left holding their breath, wanting to see more. And the reviews keep coming, from both critics and, as this movie keeps garnering awards (7 won already) and nominations (it already has 2 Oscar nominations for Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts).

Meryl Streep was fabulous. I’m tempted to say “as always,” but in truth she gets better with each film. I loved her as the “crummy mummy” (as Charlotte O’Sullivan aptly put it) in August: Osage County.

I love the “odd” title, by the way. This is not a momentous story. Just a glimpse into the life of another dysfunctional family among others, who goes through some rough times one August – among others.

The Cast and a Little Bit of the Story

There’s Meryl Streep, the matriarch Violet, and Sam Shepherd, the patriarch Beverly, who chooses to disappear. Family starts pouring in.

There’s Misty Upham, the American Indian live-in maid, who’s eventually drawn into the family drama.August: Osage County. Movie review with very few spoilers.

There’s Margo Martindale, as Mattie Fae, Violet’s sister, who has a son, Little Charlie (Benedict Cumberbatch), named after Mattie Fae’s husband Charlie (Chris Cooper, who gives an excellent performance, even though he has less screen time).

Then come Violet’s girls: Barbara (Julia Roberts), married to Bill (Ewan McGregor), Karen (Juliette Lewis), engaged to Steve (Dermot Mulroney, who’s very good in his role of crook and generally ignoble person), and Ivy (Julianne Nicholson, whom I admired immensely for her acting; I really want to see more of this actress), who’s secretly in love with someone.

Barbara and Bill have a daughter, fourteen-year-old Jean (Abigail Breslin).

Why I Loved This Film

As always in such ensemble films, secrets come to the light when the family members are gathered together, and drama brews until there’s some change to the family setup. It’s all very theatrical in concept and yet the way the camera moves around the interiors gives this drama the strong feel of cinema. I love that sideboard that keeps cropping up in a conversation over the funeral dinner, and the presence of the old house that witnesses it all, with that wonderfully-lit annex where more secrets are revealed.

I say watch this film to see an Abigail Breslin that’s quickly growing up; an absolutely wonderful Julianne Nicholson; Dermot Mulroney, whom I loved in Griffin & Phoenix (2006) and who does an excellent portrayal of a quite different character here; and, of course, Meryl Streep, who somehow proves with each film that, perhaps, she really is the greatest American actress alive. (Uma Thurman is another one of my top favorite American actresses. I'm surprised to see she has only 1 Oscar nomination, for Pulp Fiction. Another favorite of mine is Hilary Swank, who has won 2 Oscars for her magnificent performances in Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby). P.S. Oh, I forgot Cate Blanchett! Don't want to do that. She's a fabulous actress, and so versatile! Charlize Theron is also amazing. Her performance in Monster was simply mindblowing. And the list goes on.

August: Osage County (On-Demand Video)

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The Deer Hunter (1978). Won 5 Oscars. Meryl Streep's First Oscar Nomination (On-Demand Video)

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Griffin & Phoenix (2006) – DVD. A sad love story with Amanda Peet and Dermot Mulroney

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How Many Oscars Has Meryl Streep Won?

And How Many Academy Awards Nominations?

3 Oscars and 18 nominations. See the list of movies.

Updated: 12/31/2020, Mira
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Mira on 02/03/2014

Thank you, Derdriu, for your comment. I hope you'll like the movie :)

DerdriuMarriner on 02/03/2014

Mira, Such an amazing cast. I especially look forward to Chris Cooper's performance; I've long admired his commitment to acting. And Sam Shepard!
This is Benedict Cumberbatch's time to shine.
Me, too, I agree that Meryl Streep just keeps getting better and better. Just when you think that she can't stretch any more, then she takes acting to an even higher level.

Mira on 01/27/2014

I never knew this guy. Turns out many people like him. Who is he?:)

JoHarrington on 01/26/2014

Benedict Cumberbatch is in it? I'm in!

Mira on 01/26/2014

Some critics comment that it still feels too much like a play and not enough like cinema, because the director (John Wells) comes from TV (he did ER and The West Wing), but I think it's cinema alright, and beautiful cinema at that.

AbbyFitz on 01/25/2014

Haven't seen this movie yet, but was thinking about it bi didn't realize it was a play first

Mira on 01/25/2014

Thank you, Kathleen. Mixed reviews, indeed, but that's because it's a film that's hard to pin down. It seems easy, the storyline and all, and yet it's more compelling than other films with a more developed and suspenseful storyline.

KathleenDuffy on 01/25/2014

I heard 'mixed' reviews about this film on the BBC Radio recently, but all agreed that Streep was incredible - I definitely want to see it. Also, I like Sam Shepard very much. Thanks for your enthusiastic review!

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