The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

August: Osage County

Family, can't live with them. Can't live without them. Family dramas can be a dime a dozen but when handled right, they can be home runs drilled out of the ballpark. I didn't necessarily have a ton of interest in catching up with 2013's August: Osage County because it did look a little too familiar, but I'm glad I did. An excellent movie all-around, and as I mentioned periodically while viewing, just a disgusting, talented cast.

It is an especially hot August in the small Oklahoma town of Pawhuska, and the Weston family is in for some fireworks. Family matriarch (of sorts) Violet (Meryl Streep) has been diagnosed with mouth cancer and quickly becoming addicted to the pain pills she's been prescribed. The family has drifted apart over the years, but Violet has to ask them for help, to return to their hometown when their father, Beverly (Sam Shepard), goes missing. There's no trace of where he went to or if he will even be back, but the Westons return in a time of trouble to help their mother (some against their better judgment), including the Weston's oldest daughter, Barbara (Julia Roberts). The family is far from close though, many of them barely able to stand the site of each other. All those buried away emotions and feelings are getting churned up, and they're going to be churned up even more when news of where Beverly went is revealed.

Based on a play of the same name by Tracy Letts, 'August' was a bit of an under the radar flick last winter in terms of Oscar buzz. It made over $70 million in theaters and picked up mostly positive reviews. With this cast, how could it not? Reading reviews, watching previews, I didn't question that it'd be a good movie. I kinda just assumed in that department. But did I want to see it? Need to see it? No, not particularly. I'm glad I did though. It is well worth a couple hours to sit down and watch even if it is equal parts funny and uncomfortable, things changing from one to the other at a moment's notice.

But that's family, isn't it? And that's your movie. These aren't good guys and bad guys. These are people who grew up and reacted/responded differently to their parents, their siblings, their extended families, their house, their school, their surroundings and their environment. That's life, and that is what the movie does so well. That's what life is, and the script by Letts (off the play) does it pretty effortlessly. Much of the movie takes place in the Weston home with an occasional, quick departure here and there. All that frustration and emotion and discomfort has been bottled up for years, and this not so pleasant reunion may be the thing that blows the top right off that stove. Most of that pent-up emotion comes out at a painfully real dinner scene, but more on that later.

But seriously, how about this cast?!? You almost take for granted what a freakishly good actress Meryl Streep is because....well, every year she's in another Oscar-nominated part (she's been nominated 18 times. 18!!!). Streep just commits to each and every part to the point you never even question her. You just go with it. Her Violet is a terrifying character (maybe because my Mom is...ya know, really nice), a mother who had a hellacious childhood and at times takes it out on her kids. She means well -- I think -- but it comes across in some odd ways. The main personal dynamic is between Streep's Violet and Robert's Barbara (both Oscar-nominated turns), a mother and daughter who argue almost constantly, maybe not admitting they're more similar than they would like. Just two supremely talented actresses doing their thing.

But wait. There's more!!! Along with Shepard in a quick appearance early, there's also Violet's sister, Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), her husband, Charlie (Chris Cooper), and their son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch), much maligned in the eyes of his mother and often protected by his father. As for the other Weston sisters, there's Ivy (Julianne Nicholson), single and getting a little older who never moved away from her hometown, and Karen (Juliette Lewis), the youngest sister who means well but is a tad bit clueless. Who else to look for? Ewan McGregor plays Barbara's husband, the longtime couple struggling through some serious issues, Abigail Breslin their rebellious teenage daughter, and Dermot Mulroney as Karen's new boyfriend and recent fiance who you just know is up to something in the slimy department and Misty Upham as Johnna, the Native American (or Injun, whatever you like) caretaker Beverly hires for Violet before his disappearance.

Some complaints were that for a dark comedy, there wasn't enough...well, comedy. There are laughs, but there is far more in the old drama department. The dinner scene is the heart of the movie, some genuine, out-loud laughs that quickly transition into painful, real moments that you could see happening at any long, overdue family reunion. The movie goes down some surprising routes in the second half and let's face it, a happy ending here just wasn't going to happen. This is a drama about the story, about the drama, about the acting. Highly recommended. If you're a fan of family/friend dramas from Home for the Holidays to The Family Stone, The Big Chill to Rain Man, you'll enjoy this one, hopefully a whole lot.

August: Osage County (2013): *** 1/2 /****

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