August: Osage County (2013)

august osage county

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.

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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.

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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.

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16 thoughts on “August: Osage County (2013)”

  1. You have made your point quite clear and can see the criticism you have. It was obvious that this was based on a play and that there were a lot of characters who don’t all get enough screentime. I too would have liked to see more of the McGregor storyline…same things goes for what happens with the daughter…it seems a lot more is going on which the viewer does not get insight in. I however did enjoy the movie (even though I’m not a fan of Meryl Streep) and thought it had quite a lot very funny moments (really liked the bit where they throw the plates).

    1. Yes, it is a very play like but for me, it doesn’t work for a movie. With such actors like McGregor and Benedict and Dermot, you get very interested in their characters and it’s such a shame if their story lines are swallowed by annoying female leads. That’s what happened with me, I found the women to be annoying.. and their actions unjustified, especially Roberts’ character.
      And having seen so many great ones this year, I can’t see the appeal of August.. sadly.
      Thanks for the comment though!

      1. Plays don’t always work for me….one example I did not like was Carnage…could not stand that film. Guess you have that with this movie. Did not have the feeling those actions were unjustified because I thought it was just the type of characters they were. Sure their actions were crazy, but I know people who sometimes act like that….

        1. Haven’t seen Carnage but I guess I’ll skip it though. Yes, people act crazy sometimes but when you don’t click with a character, then that crazy just seems bad.

  2. I think this flick is relatively good, but it isn’t great. And I totally agree that it probably works better as a play than a movie, at least the way Wells’ directed it. He tried to treat it like a proper movie, without ever considering how his filmmaking technique impacted the story. And so we wind off with actors storming off to go stand in place, every now and again kicking dirt. He would have been served just filming it like a play.

    1. You know, that reminds me of a great indie flick that was kind of like a play – The Kitchen! It was filmed in, like it says, the kitchen and characters came and left and it was also with many story lines but it worked so well because the direction was actually rather refreshing. I’m now wondering if August would have worked as a single location movie, just couple of rooms or something….

      1. I think, for the most part, that it would have. That way, when Cooper, for example, storms, off . . . we wouldn’t be stuck seeing him stand in place, occasionally kicking the dirt.

        I also think Wells would have been wise to cut down on editing cuts. He ought to have filmed this the way Kevin Smith filmed Chasing Amy. Lots of long takes, with wide angles (i.e. just stick with the establishing shots). Let us decide on what we want to focus. That technique would have reduced the offensiveness of Roberts’ and Streep’s over-acting, I think.

  3. All of the acting is good, but the problem is that a lot of it also happens to be very big, loud and over-the-top, as if some of these people were just trying to out-act the other person next to them, rather than actually give us a character we can like, believe in, or care for. Which is something this film definitely would have benefited from. Good review Ray.

    1. Yes, no connection to these two leading women.. Like I said, the more quieter, subtle characters stood out because of that, they were not as out there. Thanks for the comment!

  4. Great writing. I definitely think this one would have benefitted from some quieter moments. The run time is significantly lower than in the play and a little more space to reflect on the characters and the themes would have helped. This movie still ranks as one of my favourites of the year – the performances were great and I connected with the themes, but it wasn’t perfect.

    1. Well, I have loved so many movies this year so I was bound to dislike one and it happened to be this one. So many things I would do differently.. so.. yeah.
      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Great recap. I guess when I look at an Oscar nominated film, I want it to have added something to the genre. This was just another dysfunctional family “forced to come together” film. There wasn’t anything unique about it. I think the best word you used to describe it, would also be what I would describe it as–It was just “messy.” Perhaps that was purposeful as the characters were messy. I don’t know.

    1. Exactly, from all the Oscar nomination movies I’ve seen so far, this is definitely the weakest one!
      I think when a character is messy, a cleaner technique would help to relate more, there is a need for balance, especially with August: Osage County.

  6. August: Osage County may feature some terrific performance and interesting characters, but it felt like it was made to showcase its impressive talent rather than tell a story.
    Julianne Nicholson was MVP in my opinion.

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