The Dallas Movie Screening Group

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

August Osage County

Conjunction Junction What's your dysfunction?  Whatever it may be it is nothing compared to those possessed by the Weston family of August, Osage County. The film, adapted from the Pulitzer Prize winning play of 2007, written by Tracy Letts, explores the unspoken demons, generationally long held and deep- seated resentments of the members of a rural Oklahoma family that is disintegrating before our very eyes. Beverly (Sam Sheperd) and Violet (Meryl Streep, at her very best ever) are the stagnating older parents of three adult daughters who are all leading somewhat unfulfilled lives of their own. Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) is the dutiful, stay near home daughter who checks up on her pill addicted, cancer stricken mother  periodically. She is working towards asserting her independence soon through a secret relationship with a certain family member, mild mannered but maternally berated Charles, Jr. (Benedict Cumberbatch in a poignant portrayal). Daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) is a strong, opinionated woman who couldn't get away from Oklahoma quickly enough only to find herself raising an independent and free thinking daughter of her own, while dealing with a cheating husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and disintegrating marriage. Beverly, an alcoholic failed academic and poet, and wife have an "agreement" with their chosen vices of alcohol and pills. The impending course of the film is foreshadowed when Beverly hires a Native American care taker for his wife before a well thought out alcohol bender from which he will not return. The daughters and the weak men in their lives converge back on the plains to join mother as she discovers the circumstances of and begins to deal with the unwelcome change in her life's course. The dysfunctions consume and cling onto all of them like the August heat consumes and permeates the plains of their origins. But they are a family and this place is their home, as we are reminded. As a Midwesterner, where folks rarely air their dirty laundry even among other family members and they would rather die before revealing sordid family secrets, this family portrayal leaves the viewer feeling most unwelcome and uninvited in the voyeuristic viewing. The nuances of acting out such love hate familial relationships are simply stunning to watch unfold.                                      
When the family reunites, all hell breaks loose slowly but surely via a finely choreographed series of events that will leave you in awe at the turns and amazingly solid and impeccable female performances all the way around. There are very few weak performances in the chain. Other than Vi's brother in law Charles (Chris Cooper in a hit out of the park performance) who is the stunned lone voice of reason and stability) most of the male performances are of superficial one dimensional men. The final daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) has brought her "flavor of the year" fianc√©e into the melee and all he can do is add his own shocking twist to the drama.    

Along for the wild ride are Vi's sister Mattie (source of a huge shocker) and the housekeeper/cook, Johnna, who watches from afar and spends her time feeding the members and cleaning up after their messes, with a nurturing and protective instinct. This black comedy, in my opinion is a must see, for the performances alone. it's bitingly caustic script shines and the ensemble cast is second to few. . It also is required viewing so we all can come to the realization that our own families will never be as broken and bleeding as the Westons. This viewer was thoroughly pulled in and left stunned in the OKLA red dust after 121 minutes of an F 5 tornado on the warpath. If you are uncomfortable with such a scenario, then this film may not be your cup of tea. No sweet tea served here at this dinner table. Dinner here is a very memorable affair. Fish lunches are too. 
(Review by Cheryl Wurtz)

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