Review: Streep holds nothing back in brutal drama
This image released by The Weinstein Company shows, from left, Meryl Streep, Julianne Nicholson and Juliette Lewis in a scene from "August: Osage County." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Claire Folger)
This publicity image released by The Weinstein Company shows, from left, Julianne Nicholson, Meryl Streep and Margo Martindale in a scene from "August: Osage County." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Claire Folger)
This image released by The Weinstein Company shows, from left, producers George Clooney, Grant Heslov, and actresses Meryl Streep, and Julianne Nicholson on the set of "August: Osage County." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Claire Folger)
This image released by The Weinstein Company shows Chris Cooper, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch in a scene from "August: Osage County." (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Claire Folger)
Planning some extended family dinners over the holidays? Worried that folks might not get along, that festering tensions might surface, that people might get tipsy and say too much?
Well, here’s an idea: First, go see August: Osage County, the blistering film adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning Tracy Letts play starring Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts.
Because once you’ve witnessed the rollicking, vicious family dinner that’s the dramatic centerpiece of this movie, you’ll know you’re safe. No family meal of your own will ever seem truly unpleasant after you’ve witnessed this scene. Festering tensions? Try brutal wounds, caused by the bitterest of insults lobbed across the table with those mashed potatoes. The kind of insults that only those closest to you – we’re talking family – could ever dream up.
Virtually all the action takes place in one home, in the heart of the Oklahoma plains, stifling in the August heat. It belongs to Violet and her husband, Beverly, a 69-year-old poet and raging alcoholic. “My wife takes pills, and I drink,” he says. “That’s the bargain we’ve struck.”
And, boy, does Violet take pills. It’s a shock to see the regal Streep looking this way: wrinkled and pale, with a craggy fuzz of gray hair peeking out of a dark wig, a result of chemotherapy for mouth cancer. She has stains on her baggy sweater and can’t keep her balance. She still smokes, and tufts of that smoke linger in the stifling air, because she doesn’t believe in air conditioning.
Extended family is summoned home when emergency strikes: Beverly’s disappearance. All are forced to sit together, talk together, eat together, and of course face some serious family truths. The nature of those truths won’t be revealed here, except for the truth that it would be hard to assemble a more accomplished cast.
Margo Martindale, especially, is absolutely pitch-perfect as Violet’s sister Mattie Fae, at once boisterous, flighty, warm, and witheringly insensitive to her awkward adult son, Charlie (Benedict Cumberbatch.)
Also wonderful is Chris Cooper as Mattie Fae’s long-suffering husband, and Julianne Nicholson as the lonely and misunderstood Ivy, one of Violet’s daughters. The top-flight cast also includes Sam Shepard, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Abigail Breslin and Dermot Mulroney. (And it’s co-produced by George Clooney, no less.)