Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe was probably one of the most shocking, out there and pushing boundaries movie that came out in 2011 and that put Letts somewhere high in my list until August: Osage County brought him right back down. It doesn’t matter that it had Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts face to face and insult to insult, and that the director John Wells is behind Shameless US, the movie is messy and over the top, never really exploring the story lines that actually spike interest and overall disappointing.
Once upon a blue moon, I will dislike a movie a lot and it seems that August: Osage County is one of those blue moon moments, so get ready for lack of love towards this award winning movie in this review. That being said, this movie could potentially be somebody’s favorite due to the two leading ladies who have had amazing careers (Streep more than Roberts but who’s counting), but they didn’t really impress me as much as I hoped. For me, the whole movie was just a little bit too much and the bad kind of crazy – probably because The Wolf of Wall Street set the bar high for quality crazy.
The plot of August: Osage County revolves around a dysfunctional family lead by Violet (Streep) and followed by her three daughters Barbara (Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis). When an event brings these four back together, the family secrets come to surface and everybody’s flaws start to show. There was so much going on by the middle of the movie that it was hard to focus not just on the movie but on the characters, especially when you start adding more into the mix. There’s aunt Mattie (Margo Martindale), husband Charlie (Chris Cooper), daughter (Abigail Breslin), husband (Ewan McGregor), fiancé (Dermot Mulroney) and Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch) – now imagine all of them having issues and problems and secrets and my head is spinning just thinking about it.
Truthfully, I think it might have worked as a play but as a movie, it just doesn’t really explore the possibilities of some of the more interesting story lines. For instance, the most disappointing for me was the fact that the movie completely dismissed Dermot Mulroney, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ewan McGregor, therefore the potential of these three was completely unused. It was hinted multiple times that these characters could have their own spotlight with their own dark little secrets but of course August: Osage County was not about them but about Streep and Roberts.
I feel like if I say something bad about Streep the world around me would grumble and all hell would break loose, but I’m going to risk it and say that the last great performance by Streep for me was in Doubt (2008). Same goes for Roberts who has been around for years now but most of her great work has stayed in the past. So, having these together in a movie could have been epic but it somehow was almost exhausting to witness the showdown of their characters. Almost as exhausting as watching a movie that is dragged, August: Osage County, despite being the opposite, almost feels like a circus finale where all the acts gather on the arena all at once and you have no idea who or what you should focus on.
It might seem too harsh but I did gave a warning of this review being rather negative so I’ll balance it by saying something nice for a change: I really enjoyed Cumberbatch! His character was so different from roles I have become used to seeing him, his vulnerability and probably a slightly lower IQ than normal, came across so genuine and sweet that I felt bad for him. Another stand out was the sister who should have had the spotlight, Julianne Nicholson as Ivy was the dark horse for me and amongst the chaos, she stood out but probably because I felt for her character the most.
That’s why I actually disliked the movie so much, the lack of appeal and sympathy for the characters. Dysfunctional, yes, but comparing Meryl Streep’s Violet to Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine, Jasmine wins all the awards. Comparing crazy to The Wolf of Wall Street, the Wolf wins. Comparing sister-love to Blue Jasmine, Jasmine wins. Comparing compassion for characters, everything else wins because though I tried my best, I couldn’t feel sorry for the leading characters and I only felt bad for Dermot, Ewan and Benedict because they were in this mix and they’re so much better than that. Maybe if I had seen August: Osage County before seeing so many great ones from 2013 I’d like it more but the bar was probably set too high for this one.