Picoreview: August: Osage County is a story about a wildly dysfunctional family, with an absolutely dreadful matriarch played by Meryl Streep and–primarily, although really not at all singularly–her personal war with her oldest daughter, played by Julia Roberts. The real skill of the performances is that although many of the characters are just awful people, they’re all *understandable*. At moments they’re all even sympathetic, which, given how dreadful most of them are, is pretty impressive.
There are possibly no mis-steps with the casting (I don’t personally like Dermot Mulroney or Juliette Lewis, but they’re both well cast in this, particularly Lewis); Chris Cooper is as easy to love as he ever is, and I found Benedict Cumberbatch’s against-type casting to be fairly inspiring.
It is, IMHO, the best thing Julia Roberts has ever done (and I like her, so I don’t mean to be damning with faint praise there). She’s raw and wounded and angry and very good. Meryl Streep is not only (of course) terrific, but ironically, in her short, cancer-patient hair scenes, I think she’s also as beautiful as she’s ever been.
Storywise, there’s a revelation in the final act which, given the circumstances already illuminated by the film, is to me an action that is nothing short of malicious cruelty. There’s no reason for it at all except to damage the people who least deserve it…which is of course entirely the reason, given the characters in this story. It’s also a catalyst, in a roundabout way, for Roberts’ character to make some necessary choices, but of all the back-stabbing things done and said in the movie, this one at the end is what changes the story from a drama to a tragedy.
It’s a movie well worth seeing and it is, in fact, less depressing than I thought it would be.